Colorado U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger also ordered state prison officials Monday to stop violating the inmate’s right to cover his head in accordance with his faith.
Krieger’s 43-page ruling, after a trial in March, chided Colorado prison officials for abandoning their philosophy that encouraged prisoners to practice their religions.
Colorado prison spokeswoman Alison Morgan said officials still were studying the ruling and had not decided whether to file an appeal.
Krieger’s ruling came in the case of Ronald Anthony Vashone-Caruso, who has spent more than 35 years behind bars. He sued the state prison system because he wanted to eat meals that complied with Muslim dietary laws; wear his kufi, or prayer cap, outside his cell; and participate in religious study groups.
Although kosher meals provided to Jewish inmates meet Muslim dietary restrictions, prison officials told Vashone-Caruso he could have kosher meals only by switching his official religious affiliation from Islam to Judaism.
Krieger said that violated Vashone-Caruso’s constitutional rights to practice his faith.
Prison officials also contended that Vashone-Caruso was not sincere about wanting Muslim food because he sometimes bought pork and other items prohibited for Muslims in the prison canteen. Krieger said such purchases might reflect carelessness or even spiritual weakness but were irrelevent to the prisoner’s wish to eat approved foods.
Prison officials argued that inmate headgear is restricted to prevent gang identifications and the harassing of inmates who stand out. Krieger also ruled that Vashone-Caruso must be allowed to cover his head in accordance with his faith but not necessarily with his kufi.
All inmates are provided stocking caps and baseball caps that they can wear anywhere and can buy bandannas to wear in their own housing units, prison officials testified.
But the stocking caps are thick, and inmates aren’t allowed to wear them in hot weather, Krieger said. Baseball caps, which have bills, aren’t suitable for Muslims who must touch their heads to the ground when they pray, she said.
She suggested that prison officials let Muslim inmates wear baseball caps backward or issue lighter- weight stocking caps that can be worn all year or find some other accommodation for Muslim inmates who wish to cover their heads.
Kreiger said monthly religious classes for Muslims, which ended in 2000 because of budget cuts, resumed after a prison official in charge of finding volunteers to run the classes was deposed as part of Vashone-Caruso’s lawsuit in 2004.
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