Officials need to show hardship if they want to deny Halal meals to an inmate

| 28/01/2008 | Reply

PHOENIX — Arizona prison officials need to show a
real hardship if they want to deny halal meals to a Muslim inmate, the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In a
unanimous ruling, the judges overturned a lower court decision which
accepted the claims of the state Department of Corrections that
providing the meals to Amin Shakur would create additional costs and
administrative burdens. The appellate judges said there was no evidence
that the state actually looked into the real cost.

 The judges
also noted that the state already provides two kinds of kosher meals
for Jewish inmates. That, they said, not only raises questions about
whether the state is has a reason for its disparate treatment between
Jewish and Muslim prisoners but also casts “substantial doubt’’ on the
state’s claims that accommodating Shakur and other Muslim inmates would
result in significant problems.

Wednesday’s ruling sends the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt, who initially threw out Shakur’s lawsuit.

And
that could put the Department of Corrections into an interesting
position: A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said
Wednesday there is currently no real difference between the cost of
regular and kosher meals. Bill Lamoreaux said both cost an average of
$1.28 each.

Court records show Shakur, serving a 21-year term
for burglary, kidnapping and theft, changed his religious designation
during his incarceration from Catholic to Muslim.

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In 2000 he originally asked for a diet of vegetables and milk; the one he gets also includes eggs.

Shakur
also said he could have meat if it were slaughtered and prepared in the
ritual way to make it halal. He said that kosher meat would be
consistent with those requirements and provide an alternate source of
protein.

Prison officials rejected the request for a kosher
diet, saying there is no evidence that eating halal meet is a
requirement of his religion. And they said the vegetarian diet allows
him to avoid eating non-halal meat.

That led to the lawsuit.

Appellate
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain said the fact Shakur admitted there is no
requirement he eat halal meat does not end the matter. He said the
trial court should also have considered the inmate’s claims that the
all-vegetarian diet both denies him protein and causes gastrointestinal
distress that interferes with his religious practices.

Beyond that, O’Scannlain said the cost claims are dubious.

Relying
only on an affidavit of a pastoral administrator, the state argued that
providing kosher meals to all 850 Muslim inmates would run $1.5 million
a year; providing them with halal meat would run “millions of dollars
annually.’’

“There is no evidence in the record that Arizona
Department of Corrections actually looked into providing kosher meat to
all Muslim prisoners, which could potentially result in economies of
scale that would reduce the overall costs of the meals,’’ the judge
wrote. In fact, O’Scannlain said, there is no evidence the state
solicited bids or even studied the effect on the budget.

And the judge said there also is no evidence all Muslim inmates would demand kosher meat.

O’Scannlain
also said there is evidence that a prison in Washington state a halal
meat diet to inmates for what a court said is “minimally more expensive
than the standard diet.’’ The said that puts the burden on Arizona
prison officials to explain why another institution is able to
accommodate those inmate needs.

Category: Food Service, The Americas

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