Controversial for-profit prison accommodates religious dietary requirements of other faiths, but not Islam
DALLAS – Feb 22, 2017 – Two inmates of Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas, are suing the federal prison for violating the inmates’ constitutional right to eat according to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
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In the lawsuit, plaintiffs Olusegun Martins and Sabah Al-Washah claim they requested “halal” meals in accordance with their religious beliefs, but prison officials refused their requests. When the plaintiffs argued that meals for other faith groups are provided, such as kosher meals, prison administrators suggested a vegetarian diet and claimed the prison was not required to accommodate all religious requirements in the same manner.
The prison is managed by The Geo Group, which is a private for-profit prison management corporation that has been featured in critical segments by Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. In their segments, the commentators cited reports of cruelty to children, sexual misconduct, mistreatment of inmates and a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” Reeves County Detention Center was also listed as one of “America’s 10 Worst Prisons” by Mother Jones.
The complaint, which was filed by attorneys at Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, claims that prison officials violated the inmates’ rights when they attempted to impose the prison’s definition of “halal” on the inmates. Attorneys cite violations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Khalil Meek, executive director of Muslim Legal Fund of America, a nonprofit charity that funds Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, said that government agencies should not dictate religious beliefs on anyone.
“No government agency has the right to tell people, not even prisoners, what to believe or how to observe their faith,” said Meek. “We are hopeful that this lawsuit makes it clear that prisons, even privately run for-profit prisons, need to respect the separation of church and state that is the foundation of our religious freedom in America.”
Meek went further to thank the inmates for contacting CLCMA and said that Muslims who feel their religious rights are being violated should promptly contact an attorney or constitutional rights organization, like MLFA or CLCMA.
Muslim Legal Fund of America is a national nonprofit charity that funds projects to protect and defend constitutional rights in America. Established in 2001, MLFA has defended freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to a fair trial, due process of law and many other civil liberties.
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