Muslim Mission's Jumah services. Khalilalah also says he was
acquainted with Eugene Hunter and Reico Cranshaw when they were
inmates at Pontiac. Imam Khalilalah says he didn't bar Hunter
from attending Ramadan but did insist that Hunter prostrate
himself during prayer as Muslims are required to do. El Rukns,
Hunter says, do not prostrate themselves when they pray.
Imam Agin Muhammad, Sr., the Islamic chaplain at Stateville,
who, like Khalilalah, is associated with the American Muslim
Mission (now dissolved and decentralized), says anyone may attend
Islamic services. In fact, Imam Muhammad says, there is a Moorish
Science Temple of America service at Stateville each Friday. That
service is distinct and separate from the service of the American
Muslim Mission and is conducted by an inmate. Anyone may attend
the service as an individual, Imam Muhammad says, but not as an
identified group. As of the date of this writing, it appears that
the Department bars no individual from attending religious
services and that anyone professing Al Islam may participate in
Ramadan. It is true, as plaintiffs point out, that gang members
attend religious services but they attend as individuals and not
as a sanctioned or officially recognized groups. The significant
fact is that El Rukns, qua El Rukns, were not allowed to hold
their own services or to possess materials identifying them as El
The defendant presented the testimony of Dr. John Gordon
Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of Religion. He
is the editor of The Encyclopedia of American Religions, the
recognized listing of American religious groups. Dr. Melton is of
the opinion that the El Rukns are not an established religion,
but only because they haven't existed for a sufficient length of
time. They have all the indicia of a religion: belief in a deity,
a holy book, a place of worship, and a form of worship. The El
Rukns are obviously in a state of development and are moving, Dr.
Melton believes, closer and closer to main-line Islamic teaching
The parties have devoted significant portions of their
presentations, through both evidence and argument, to the
question whether the El Rukns are a genuine religious
organization. The defendant argues that the El Rukns are shams
who use religion as a cover to obtain First Amendment protection
for their real business, which is criminal activity. Certainly
the El Rukns profess beliefs that are consonant with the basic
tenets of Islam. They are monotheists. They believe in one God,
Allah, and that Muhammed Abdullah is His prophet. They study and
revere the Glorious Koran which is their principal holy book and
scripture. They have established ceremonies and have a regular
time and place of worship. "The essence of religion is belief in
a relation to God involving duties superior to those arising from
any human relation." United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 175,
85 S.Ct. 850, 858, 13 L.Ed.2d 733 (1964); quoting Chief Justice
Hughes in United States v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605, at 633-34, 51
S.Ct. 570, at 578, 75 L.Ed. 1302 (1931). The El Rukns' professed
beliefs undeniably meet that test.
It is true that the El Rukns are still in a state of
development of their beliefs and practices and the members who
testified showed a certain lack of uniformity in their
understandings. The defendant's argument that the El Rukns'
beliefs are not religious because their beliefs are changing,
however, is without merit. "Courts should not undertake to
dissect religious beliefs because the believer admits that he is
`struggling' with his position or because his beliefs are not
articulated with the clarity and precision that a more
sophisticated person might employ." Thomas v. Review Board, Ind.
Empl. Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 715, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 1430, 67
L.Ed.2d 624 (1981).
The difficult question about the El Rukns is whether their
beliefs are sincerely held, for even if "[t]he `truth' of a
belief is not open to question, there remains the significant
question whether it is `truly held.'" United States v. Seeger,
380 U.S. 163, 185, 85 S.Ct. 850, 863, 13 L.Ed.2d 733
(1964). The defendant urges the conclusion upon the court that
the El Rukns are insincere. The evidence concerning the criminal
activities of the El Rukn organization is not completely
persuasive of a lack of religious sincerity on the part of the
individuals who testified. There is a gulf, however, that divides
what the individuals profess and what the El Rukn organization
does. Perhaps the El Rukns have created a division of labor
within the organization, and the witnesses who came to testify
are people whose primary duties are spiritual in nature while
other members devote themselves to the more temporal pursuits of
the group. The court need not to decide whether the plaintiffs
truly hold the beliefs they claim, however, because the court
concludes that the decision in this case rests on the discussion
The right to hold a particular religious belief is absolute,
but the right to freely exercise a religious belief is not.
Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed.
1213 (1940). Although prisoners do not lose their First Amendment
rights upon incarceration, Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 96
S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451 (1976), those rights are subject to
restriction when the limitations placed upon the rights further
a legitimate governmental purpose. Pell v. Procunier,
417 U.S. 817, 94 S.Ct. 2800, 41 L.Ed.2d 495 (1974).
[A] prison inmate retains those First Amendment
rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a
prisoner or with the legitimate penological
objectives of the corrections system. Thus,
challenges to prison restrictions that are asserted
to inhibit First Amendment interests must be analyzed
in terms of the legitimate policies and goals of the
corrections system, to whose custody and care the
prisoner has been committed in accordance with due
process of law.
Id. at 822, 94 S.Ct. at 2804.
The restrictions which the defendant places upon incarcerated
El Rukns obviously infringe the First Amendment rights of
association and the free exercise of religion which the
plaintiffs would enjoy as El Rukns on the street. However, "[t]he
operational realities of a prison dictate restrictions on the
associational rights among inmates." Jones v. North Carolina
Prisoners Association, 433 U.S. 119, 126, 97 S.Ct. 2532, 2538, 53
L.Ed.2d 629 (1977). The court must carefully scrutinize these
restrictions on the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights and decide
if the governmental policies are necessary to carry out the
legitimate goals of the correctional system. Childs v. Duckworth,
705 F.2d 915, 920 (7th Cir. 1983).
Put another way, "prison rules that incidently restrain the
free exercise of religion are justified only `if the state
regulation has an important objective and the restraint on
religious liberty is reasonably adapted to achieving that
objective.'" Madyun v. Franzen, 704 F.2d 954, 960 (7th Cir.
1983); quoting LaReau v. McDougall, 473 F.2d 974, 979 (2nd Cir.
1979), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 878, 94 S.Ct. 49, 38 L.Ed.2d 123
(1973). Cf. Shabazz v. O'Lone, 782 F.2d 416 (3rd Cir. 1986)
(state must show that challenged regulations are intended to
serve and do serve the penological goal of security); Walker v.
Blackweel, 411 F.2d 23 (5th Cir. 1969) (state must show a
compelling interest for restriction on First Amendment rights).
The evidence clearly shows that the defendant is justified in
restricting the association of the El Rukns and in refusing to
permit them to identify themselves in the prison setting as El
Rukns. The security problem caused by street gangs in Illinois
prisons is well documented. See Godinez v. Lane, No. 83-2057
(C.D.Ill. July 28, 1983), rev'd on other grounds 733 F.2d 1250
(7th Cir. 1984). The testimony of Warden Fairman and Assistant
Deputy Director DeRobertis highlights both the specific occasions
on which El Rukns have threatened institutional security by
smuggling weapons into a prison and the general security problems
that would be created by recognition and grants of special
associational rights to El Rukns. Credible evidence in the record
also supports the contention that El Rukns continue their
criminal activity while they are incarcerated.
The court cannot gainsay the decision of the prison
administrators on this sensitive question of institutional
security. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60
L.Ed.2d 447 (1979); Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 101 S.Ct.
2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981). The plaintiffs want to hold separate,
El Rukn religious services and wear and possess El Rukn emblems.
The court finds that the restrictions placed upon these
activities by the defendants, necessitated by legitimate security
concerns, do not violate the First Amendment.
Finally, the plaintiffs contend that the defendant's conduct
works a denial of equal protection. The court rejects that
contention. The policy which denies El Rukns the right to wear or
possess emblems identifying them as El Rukns is the same policy
that prevents other gangs from wearing identifying emblems. The
policy which denies El Rukns the right to possess written
material identifying them as El Rukns is the same policy that
applies to other gangs. An El Rukn can possess a Koran, but not
one titled "El Rukn." An El Rukn can possess a prayer rug or an
Islamic medallion, but not one that says "El Rukn." An El Rukn
can go to Islamic services or to Ramadan observance, but not as
an El Rukn. "While every religious sect or group need not be
provided with identical facilities for worship, a prisoner must
be afforded `a reasonable opportunity of pursuing his faith
comparable to the opportunity afforded fellow prisoners who
adhere to conventional religious precepts.'" Childs v. Duckworth,
705 F.2d 915, 920 (7th Cir. 1983), quoting Cruz v. Beto,
405 U.S. 319, 322, 92 S.Ct. 1079, 1081, 31 L.Ed.2d 263 (1972). Individual
El Rukns are afforded that reasonable opportunity to pursue their
belief in Al Islam, but not as El Rukns, for the evidence shows
that the El Rukns are a street gang and a threat to institutional
For the foregoing reasons, the equitable and declarative relief
sought by the plaintiffs is denied and the complaint is
dismissed.*fn7 The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor
of the defendant and against the plaintiffs. Each party shall
bear its own costs.