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NC Prison Inmate Sues Department Of Correction For Atheist Group Study

A picture of a gavel on a document.
Brian Turner
Flickr Creative Commons

An atheist group filed a federal lawsuit to compel the North Carolina Department of Corrections to make space available for group studies by atheists in the same way it does for religious inmates.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, was brought by Kwame Teague, an inmate being held for life on a 1996 first-degree murder conviction. Teague has requested space for a study group since 2012.

Teague asked officers at the Lanesboro Correctional Institution for group study space, similarly to how Christians receive room for Bible study. State Department of Corrections officials denied his request on the grounds that the department does not categorize as a religion either atheism or humanism, a set of beliefs and philosophies that Teague says he practices.

Teague filed a lawsuit jointly with the American Humanist Association asking for the department to treat atheists and humanists the same way it treats religious groups. Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association, says state officials are violating the First Amendment by denying atheist group studies.

“They are essentially favoring God beliefs over non-beleif, or more specifically Christians and Jews and Muslims over humanists,” she said.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the complaint.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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