ACLU Secures Religious Freedom for Muslim Prisoners at Wyoming State Penitentiary
New Prison Dining Policies More Fully Accommodate Religious Life Of Prisoners
RAWLINS, Wyo. - The
American Civil Liberties Union has struck an agreement with officials
at the Wyoming State Penitentiary that will allow Muslim prisoners to
maintain their religious practices and beliefs while still being able
to eat daily meals.
According to the agreement reached
on behalf of two Muslim prisoners, meal times will last up to 30
minutes for segregated prisoners who eat in their housing units and 20
minutes for prisoners who eat in the dining hall so as to allow them
enough time to eat and complete their prayers. The prisoners, Joseph
Miller and Hurie Purdiman, Jr., claimed in a lawsuit filed in April by
the American Civil Liberties Union that meals often arrive at the same
time that they are required by their faith to pray, forcing them to
choose between praying and eating.
"Correctional officials in Wyoming
deserve a lot of credit for being committed to making sure that members
of religious faiths have their basic religious needs met," said Stephen
Pevar, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "The
accommodations made by prison officials here are consistent with the
letter and spirit of a law passed by Congress in 2000 designed to
afford greater protection to religious practices in prison."
As part of the agreement, the main
dining hall in the prison will now have a separate microwave for
prisoners who eat non-pork meals, the prison will now offer for sale in
the commissary sanitary wipes which will allow prisoners to ensure that
their prayer areas are sanitary and prisoners will receive audible
notice prior to mealtimes so that they can finish their prayers and not
miss their meals.
The agreement also allows for Muslim
prisoners to receive meals prior to sunrise and after sunset in order
to accommodate for daytime fasting during the religious observances of
Ramadan and the holidays of Muharram, which is the first month of the
Islamic calendar, and Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of
"Prisoners should never have to make
a choice between adhering to their religious beliefs and eating," said
Jennifer Horvath, an attorney with the ACLU of Wyoming. "The
constitutional right to freely practice one's religion extends to
everyone in this country, including those who are incarcerated."
The ACLU lawsuit, filed in U.S.
District Court for the District of Wyoming, challenged previous prison
policy requiring all prisoners to eat their meals within 20 minutes
after food was delivered to a cell or common dining area. Because meal
times often coincided with prayer times, Miller and Purdiman regularly
had their meals confiscated before they were able to eat them. On other
occasions, meals arrived during a period of religious fasting and then
were confiscated prior to the fast ending at sunset.
A copy of the agreement is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/
Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program in available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/
Additional information about the ACLU of Wyoming is available online at: www.aclu-wy.org