November 29, 2018
Issue: Religious Freedom
Muslim Advocates Calls on Court to Uphold Arkansas Muslim Inmate’s Right to Halal Meals
Yesterday, Muslim Advocates filed an amicus brief in Mayfield v. Muhammad, a case currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in support of an American Muslim prisoner who has been repeatedly denied a religiously compliant halal diet. The district court ruled in favor of the prisoner, Mr. Muhammad, ordering the Arkansas Department of Corrections to provide him with halal meals, but prison administrators appealed the decision.
The amicus brief focuses on a statutory requirement that prisoners “exhaust,” or go through all of the prison’s internal grievance procedures before they can file a case in federal court. In this case, Mr. Muhammad filed four religious diet grievances and three diet requests, using all available means at his disposal to comply with the prison’s internal procedures. Nevertheless, prison officials have continuously argued that he did not exhaust all their procedures and as such, his claims should be dismissed.
Muslim Advocates’ amicus brief argues that in circumstances like this, where prisoners have done all that could reasonably be expected to exhaust their claims, they should be allowed to go to court, and prison administrators should not be able to hide behind incredibly complicated and confusing procedures to deny prisoners access to their rights. The brief urges the Eighth Circuit to uphold the district court’s decision and ensure Mr. Muhammad is provided regular access to halal meals.
“For years, the Arkansas Department of Corrections has unjustly and unlawfully obstructed Mr. Muhammad’s ability to fully practice his religion. He filed multiple requests making clear that he sought a halal diet, but despite those efforts, prison officials gratuitously continue to deny his requests,” said Yusuf Saei, Legal Fellow at Muslim Advocates. “It is vital that the Eighth Circuit affirm the district court’s decision and make clear to prison officials all across the country that they cannot use procedural loopholes and technicalities to deny incarcerated individuals the right to fully and freely practice their religious beliefs.”