Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two Cases Say Muslim Inmates Are Entitled To Halal Meals

Two recent cases have broken new ground by granting Muslim prison inmates the right to receive Halal meals, rather than relegating them to receiving only the prison's vegetarian diet. In Hudson v. Dennehy, (D MA, March 5, 2008), a Massachusetts federal district court held that refusal by the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to provide a daily Halal menu to Muslim inmates violates RLUIPA. It found that the alternative vegetarian diet is not an adequate substitute. It also held that Muslim prisoners in the Special Management Unit must be permitted access to Jum'ah services through closed-circuit television. However the court upheld the DOC's policy of banning prayer rugs and instead furnishing Muslim inmates with prayer towels. Friday's Boston Business Journal reported on the decision, saying that it "marked the first time a U.S. court decided that Muslim inmates have a right to daily Halal meals and prayer services."

A week later in Perez v. Westchester County Department of Corrections, (SDNY, March 12, 2008), a New York federal district judge approved a settlement (full text) under which any Muslim inmate may now request and must receive Halal meals containing meat as frequently as Jewish prisoners receive kosher meat meals (currently 4 times per week). Friday's New York Law Journal reported on the case. Quoting one of the pro bono lawyers who filed the lawsuit, it reports that the settlement represents a "significant departure from current case law with respect to Muslim inmates' equal protection rights to receive Halal meals containing Halal meat, as opposed to a vegetarian diet, which up until this case was arguably the constitutionally reasonable alternative meal plan."