ACLU tells jail officials to accommodate Muslim inmates during Ramadan

The ACLU of Virginia today sent an email to local and regional jail officials reminding them that they must allow Muslim inmates to take their meals between sundown and sunrise during the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan begins on August 1 and ends with the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr on August 30.

The ACLU’s warning is based on past complaints from inmates that they have not been allowed to change the times at which they take meals in order to comply with the fasting rules of Ramadan.

“Incarceration does not include the suppression of faith,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The courts and Congress have made it absolutely clear that the right of inmates to practice their religion is protected so long as it is within reason and does not impose a security threat.”

In his email, ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick reminds jail officials that during Ramadan the Virginia Department of Corrections provides Muslim inmates in its custody with a morning meal that is served before dawn, a meal after sunset, and a bagged meal that can be consumed during the night.

“This is a simple, inexpensive accommodation of religious beliefs that is available for most incarcerated persons in Virginia,” said Fitzpatrick. “Unfortunately, it is not a practice universally followed by local jails and prisons. We’re hoping that this reminder will serve as a wake-up call for jail officials, but we are prepared to provide assistance to inmates who tell us they are not being accommodated.”

Fitzpatrick also notes that courts have upheld the right of prisoners to practice their religious belief under both the First Amendment of the Constitution and under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act where federal financial support is involved.

“Today we write about Muslims because we have received complaints that their requests for religious accommodation have been ignored by jail officials,” added Willis. “But the real issue here is every person of faith who is incarcerated in Virginia. Each has a right to practice his or her religion under the Constitution and federal law.”

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