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Nation of Islam denied women entry, suit says

A Cambridge, Mass., woman who was turned away from a Nation of Islam men's meeting has sued the religious group, saying her civil rights were violated.

Marceline Donaldson, who describes herself as in her 60s and a former civil rights activist, testified Wednesday in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge that "being turned away at the door by a black man was overwhelming. When he moved me aside, my blood pressure started to go up."

Donaldson, who is black, was accompanied by her husband, 66-year-old Robert Bennett, on the drizzly day five years ago when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was speaking about black-on-black violence at the Strand Theater in Boston's Dorchester section.

Bennett, who testified Thursday, said a guard told him that he could enter the theater but his wife could not.

"It was a very emotional thing to be turned away," Bennett said.

Asked if the Nation of Islam meant to exclude women from the gathering, Don Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam mosque in Boston, would only say the group had wanted to have a private, religious men's meeting.

Lawyers for the Nation of Islam have said the event was protected under First Amendment guarantees of freedom of assembly and freedom of religion even though it was held in a city-owned building.

Members of the jury viewed a tape of portions of Farrakhan's speech that evening.

He told the audience that women outside the theater "were very, very disturbed because they wanted to see their brothers."

The Nation of Islam leader said he simply wanted to talk to a group of black men.

"All of a sudden I'm offending some law," Farrakhan said. "What law am I offending?"