State prisons in New Jersey aren’t breaking the law by serving vegetarian food to Muslim inmates who ask for meals that conform with their religious standards, a federal appeals court said.
In a case similar to dozens of others that have been filed around the country, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s finding that the state wasn’t obligated to serve two Muslim inmates meals containing meat that was halal, or slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.
It’s too early to know whether the ruling will be a blow to other Muslim inmates, who have argued with varying success that their dietary restrictions are protected by the constitution.
Pennsylvania inmate Henry Williams filed suit after he was disciplined for refusing to help prepare a pork meal while working in the kitchen at the Rockview state prison in 2001.
A prison review panel upheld his punishment, ruling that kitchen workers “are required to wear gloves and therefore do not ‘touch’ pork, technically.”
Federal prisons offer kosher, halal and vegetarian meals. Muslim prisoners of war at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba are served halal meals.
John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, which defends religious freedoms, said prisons have gotten better when it comes to accommodating inmate diet restrictions.
“It seems to me that if someone gets into a religion … that would be a good thing that you’d want to encourage,” Whitehead said. “Why prisons would resist that, I don’t know.”
On the Net:
3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: www.ca3.uscourts.gov
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty: www.becketfund.org