Saturday, January 26, 2008

9th Circuit Holds For Muslim Prisoner In Dietary Accommodation Case

In an unusually long opinion for a case of this type, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Shakur v. Schriro, (9th Cir., Jan. 23, 2008), reversed the trial court and sent back for further factual development a Muslim prisoner's claim for dietary accommodations. Plaintiff wished to access kosher meat meals, instead of the prison's ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants focusing on the cost and administrative burden in accommodating plaintiff.

The court held that the prisoner need not show that a central tenet of his faith was burdened in order to raise a viable First Amendment claim, so long as his religious belief is sincere. It said that "the district court impermissibly focused on whether 'consuming Halal meat is required of Muslims as a central tenet of Islam'." It failed to consider plaintiff's claim that the vegetarian diet gives him gastrointestinal discomfort that interferes with the purity and cleanliness needed for Muslim prayer. The court held that the present record did not permit it to determine whether the requested kosher diet places more than a de minimis burden on the prison system. It also concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate on plaintiff's RLUIPA claim because there is a factual dispute as to the extent of the burden on plaintiff's religious activities, the burden that would be created by accommodating his request, and whether less restrictive alternatives exist. Saturday's Sierra Vista (AZ) Herald reports on the decision.