Group's legal issues on display in lawsuit

Asbury Park Press (NJ)/September 1, 2005
By Karen Sudol

In municipal court, he's Lee S. Crudup.

In the Moorish-American community, he's Nature El Bey.

As a Moorish-American, Nature El Bey doesn't recognize many state laws or the courts enforcing them. Earlier this year, he was charged with (and acquitted of) failing to cooperate with Asbury Park police by giving a false name. He was convicted of not registering or insuring his car, according to court records.

The case against him doesn't belong in municipal court but in federal court, said El Bey, of Asbury Park. It's not because he's immune or exempt from any law, he said, but because he is immune from what he considers corporate policies or "color of law" acts. He has filed suit in federal court, saying it is the proper jurisdiction for his case.

"Color of law" is a legal term referring to an action taken to enforce a law that doesn't exist. For example, a zoning officer enforcing an ordinance a municipality had no authority to adopt would be operating under the color of law. Prosecutors and judges have noticed several cases involving Moorish-Americans emerging in municipal or state Superior Court in Monmouth County during the past three years. The courts take a simple approach to them: address them on a case-by-case basis but proceed like any other case, according to Assignment Judge Lawrence M. Lawson.

Moorish Americans

Moorish-Americans say they are the descendants of ancient Moabites who inhabited the northwestern and southwestern shores of Africa, according to the Moorish Science Temple of America. Traces have also been made to the Muslim conquerors of Spain.

They say they are indigenous and aboriginal to North America and were enslaved by European colonists.

Many, such as Nature El Bey, a divine minister in a temple in the Asbury Park territory, as he calls it, adhere to the Constitution of the United States Republic — their phrase — as the supreme law of the land. Their interpretation is so strict and literal that every phrase carries significant weight — they say they are law keepers and have an obligation to the law.

Their beliefs, which vary among individuals, generally derive from the Constitution, a collection of treaties, Supreme Court decisions and United Nations proclamations.

Moorish science does not deal with beliefs, according to Taj Tarik Bey, also a divine minister at the temple.

"We're dealing with law and inalienable rights related to our birthrights," Taj Tarik Bey says.

Moorish-Americans are not subject to the "constraints of any private foreign corporation," according to El Bey, meaning, for example, a police department or municipal government. They consider themselves free Moors.

Moors take a "free national" name, often using the names "Bey," "El," "Al," "Ali" or "Dey," which were titles held by ancient Moors.

Some carry nationality cards that identify allegiance as well as birth information and use Moorish license plate tags. Some don't carry state driver's licenses or pay taxes. They pay dues or taxes to the Moorish Science Temple of America.

Moorish doctrines

Many Moors follow the doctrines of the Moorish Science Temple of America, a national organization founded by Noble Drew Ali in Newark in 1913, whom followers refer to as a prophet ordained by the "Great God of the Universe." Members proclaim in the name of the prophet that they have been freed from European domination. As part of the enslavement, they maintain, history has also been reconstructed or buried.

The Moorish movement is a variation of a larger "sovereign citizen" movement, according to Mark Pitcavage, the Anti-Defamation League's director of fact-finding, who monitors extremist movements, groups, issues and leaders.

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at the Political Research Associates, a think tank that studies social movements, identifies it as a black nationalist religious movement.

Nature El Bey and Taj Tarik Bey say Moorish-Americans are not an extremist or outlaw group or considered a black movement.

Court cases

In the handful of state Superior Court cases in Monmouth County involving Moorish-Americans, defendants have ultimately cooperated, said Lawson.

Asbury Park Municipal Prosecutor James Butler said he raised the issue of cases involving Moorish-Americans at a Monmouth County Municipal Prosecutors Association meeting in March "to put it on the radar." He handled two cases involving Moors, which went to trial.

"I see it happening more and more and more. So because of that, I thought they should know more about it," he said.

In his experience, the municipal court has checked to determine if federal courts are handling the case. If the municipal court doesn't receive a stay, the case progresses. If a defendant fails to appear, a bench warrant is issued. If a defendant refuses to participate, the case proceeds, he said.

Then-acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Robert A. Honecker Jr., who recalled Butler raising the issue, advised him and other prosecutors that questions could be posed to the office within the Prosecutor's Office that handles appellate cases. Honecker said the cases in Superior Court have not affected the ability to proceed criminally.

Earlier this year, the Monmouth Municipal Judges Association also recognized the cases involving Moorish-Americans, said Holmdel Municipal Judge Robert McLeod, who has presided over one such case.

Attorneys say some type of protocol or guidelines may have to be issued regarding how best to proceed with court cases involving Moorish-Americans who challenge jurisdiction.

Most agree the legal arguments will eventually have to be heard by a higher court.

Bernard J. Sussman, a lawyer and federal court law librarian who has compiled a collection of cases and decisions involving extremists' legal arguments, said he found in his research Moorish-Americans have consistently lost court cases.

"Their legal arguments are full of holes," he said.

Pitcavage said Moors often employ pseudo-legal and pseudo-historical verbiage to justify ignoring laws.

The federal suit

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Pennsylvania in January by a group that includes El Bey, the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Moorish Divine National Movement. Named as defendants are the state of New Jersey, the Asbury Park and Wall police departments, four Asbury police officers and two Wall officers, Asbury's municipal court and the municipal court administrator.

It's based on a Jan. 16 traffic stop in Asbury Park. El Bey was charged with hindering his own apprehension by providing a false name. He was arrested on a contempt of court warrant from Wall, said Asbury Park Police Inspector Mark Kinmon.

Asbury Park issued El Bey summonses charging him with having no car insurance, an unregistered vehicle, an obstructed windshield and being on the revoked list, according to court records. In March, he was acquitted of the charge of hindering apprehension but was fined and served 14 days in jail, according to court records.

He had been issued summonses in Wall, charging him with having an uninsured and unregistered vehicle, having fictitious plates on a vehicle and parking in a no-parking zone. The vehicle was confiscated and eventually sold at auction. Additionally in 2003, he received a summons charging him with having no commercial driver's license.

He names the Wall officers in the lawsuit because he said they conspired with Asbury Park and picked him up on Jan. 16 and transferred him to Wall.

Unless Wall receives a federal court order staying the matter, El Bey's prosecution will proceed, said Wall's municipal attorney Joseph Defino. El Bey had an Aug. 29 court date but failed to show, court officials said. A warrant had been issued.

The defendants in the suit have filed motions of dismissal, claiming Pennsylvania is not the proper jurisdiction, according to the attorneys representing Wall and Asbury Park. The lawsuit should have been filed in federal court in New Jersey, they say.

The legal arguments

Asbury Park and Wall are assuming governmental authority they don't have, according to the lawsuit. The city and township are not constitutionally authorized tribunals.

Other arguments:

Both the state and federal constitutions require grand jury indictments before a charge can be prosecuted on a "capital or infamous crime." Because a grand jury has not made a presentment or indictment against him in Asbury Park or Wall, there are no charges, according to El Bey.

Police officers have no constitutional authority to stop citizens. Only the sheriff, who holds the only law enforcement office created by the state constitution, can do so, El Bey said.

He refers to Supreme Court decisions that focus on one's right to travel as an absolute right and that moving violations such as speeding are not threats to the public safety and not arrestable offenses.

He argues that the defendants robbed him of his property and kidnapped him and is requesting compensation and the dismissal of all citations. He also wants the federal court in Pennsylvania to order the defendants to "answer for their criminal and unjust actions."

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