ACLU of Florida and CAIR Florida File Lawsuit Challenging Policy Denying Religious Meals to Muslim Inmates at Miami-Dade Jails

Lawsuit states that policy which explicitly singles out Muslim inmates to be denied meals conforming to religious requirements violates detainees’ right to free exercise of religion

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
September 4, 2015 9:00 am

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MIAMI, FL – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida (CAIR Florida) filed a lawsuit challenging a policy that denies religious meals to Muslim inmates at Miami-Dade County jails.

The lawsuit, filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, states that the Muslim inmates detained at facilities operated by the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department (MDCR) have had their right to free exercise of religion violated by the MDCR’s policy refusing to provide Halal meals to Muslim inmates while continuing to provide faith-based meals to inmates of other religions.

“Just because individuals are being detained in jail doesn’t mean that the county can unilaterally strip them of their First Amendment right to practice their faith,” stated Shalini Goel Agarwal, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “Where the County offers faith-based meals to inmates of other faiths, it should not deny these meals to Muslim inmates just by professing ignorance of Islam—especially when the inmates themselves and Muslim organizations have made clear the requirements of their faith.”

“The law is clear. The right to practice your religion without government interference is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” said Thania Diaz Clevenger, Civil Rights Director at CAIR Florida. “The county's excuses for their unlawful discrimination and refusal to provide a proper religious diet to the Muslim inmates are completely without merit. You shouldn't have to choose between starving yourself and practicing your religion.”

Under Islamic principles, a Halal diet, among other things, prohibits the meat of certain animals or their derivatives, requires animals eaten to be slaughtered in a particular manner, prohibits the consumption of alcohol or food containing alcohol, and mandates that the food not come into contact with non-Halal foods. MDCR’s Faith-Based Meals Policy, in effect since October 2014, explicitly provides that Muslim inmates requesting a Halal diet will instead receive the diet for the general population.

CAIR Florida and the ACLU of Florida have worked on behalf of several MDCR detainees over the last several months to resolve the issue administratively before bringing today’s lawsuit. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of four individuals who represent all Muslim individuals detained at MDCR jails as a class, names Miami-Dade County, MDCR director Marydell Guevara and several other county officials as defendants.

A copy of the complaint filed today is available here:

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