Religious Restrictions in Prison

September 23, 2014

In 2009, the ACLU of Michigan agreed to represent Muslim prisoners in a religious freedom class action in federal court. Although the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) accommodates Jewish inmates by providing kosher meals and allows them to congregate for a Passover meal, it denied Muslim inmates halal meals and the opportunity to have the religious Eid meal at the end of Ramadan.

Further, although inmates are excused from their prison jobs for many reasons—including doctor appointments, therapy and visitation—MDOC would not release them from work on their Sabbath. In August 2013, Judge Avern Cohn ruled that MDOC was violating the religious freedom rights of Muslim inmates by not allowing them to attend Eid meals and refusing to accommodate their need to attend weekly prayer services.

In November 2013, a court-ordered settlement was reached requiring MDOC to provide halal meals. The ACLU continues to monitor compliance with the settlement and intervened in 2014 to ensure that Eid meals were provided as required.

(Dowdy-El v. Caruso; ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorneys Daniel Quick, Doron Yitzchaki, Trent Collier and Michael Cook of Dickinson Wright.)

Related Issues: