March 12, 2019
Issues: Law Enforcement Bias, Religious Freedom
Muslim Advocates Files Appeal Against Kentucky Prison for Denying Muslim Prisoners the Ability to Pray Together
Worrying Trend of Anti-Muslim Prison Policies Continues
WASHINGTON, DC — Yesterday, Muslim Advocates filed an appeal asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reverse a district court ruling allowing a federal prison in Kentucky to restrict group prayer for Muslim inmates.
William Doyle, an observant Muslim whose beliefs require him to pray daily with other Muslims, is incarcerated at Kentucky’s United States Penitentiary McCreary. In a policy that it enforces only against Muslim prisoners, the prison has limited his ability to pray in groups by requiring him to get advance permission each time and by limiting prayer to groups of at most three prisoners. In contrast, the prison freely allows Christians and inmates of other faiths to pray in groups of more than three without needing to seek staff permission. The prison also authorizes many other group activities involving more than three people.
After exhausting his administrative remedies, Doyle sued the prison in 2018, claiming violations of his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and his Fifth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. The district court dismissed his claim without allowing him a chance to fully develop his case, even though McCreary failed to provide adequate justification for its discriminatory group prayer policies.
“Our constitution and laws guarantee the right of every prisoner to freely exercise their faith,” said Matt Callahan, staff attorney for Muslim Advocates. “There is no justifiable reason for the prison to restrict Muslim prayer while allowing Christian, Asatru and Native American prisoners to pray in groups of more than three without permission. We hope the court will vindicate Mr. Doyle’s rights and stop the prison from enforcing its discriminatory policy against Muslim prisoners at the facility.”
This lawsuit is yet another example of a worrying trend of prisons increasingly restricting the rights of Muslim inmates to exercise their constitutional rights and to practice their chosen faith. Earlier this month, Muslim Advocates sued a Florida county jail housing immigration detainees for denying five Muslim detainees the ability to pray and access Qur’ans, religiously-compliant meals and other religious necessities. Muslim Advocates also filed an amicus brief earlier this year urging the Fourth Circuit not to allow a Virginia prison to restrict a Muslim inmate’s ability to participate in group prayer.
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.