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Virginia Continues to Deny Muslim Inmates’ Right to Observe Ramadan

Muslim Advocates Seeks Records after VADOC’s Inadequate Response to Reports of Religious Freedom Violations

WASHINGTON, DC — As Ramadan ends, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) has failed to sufficiently address reports that incarcerated Muslims were prevented from observing the holy month. In April, civil rights groups sent a letter asking VADOC and state elected officials to address state prison practices that are preventing Muslim inmates from fasting during Ramadan. In response, VADOC sent Muslim Advocates a letter that regurgitated existing policies and did not address reports that inmates were being denied the right to observe Ramadan. 

Because of VADOC’s wholly inadequate response, on Thursday, Muslim Advocates and Gay Garner of Interfaith Action for Human Rights filed a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request seeking critical records about the treatment of Muslims at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, VA.

The April warning letter noted that incarcerated Muslims at Wallens Ridge reported being told by the facility that because “too many” inmates have requested the ability to participate in Ramadan this year, prison management ordered the chaplain to arbitrarily deny inmates’ requests to do so. Prisoners also relayed that Wallens Ridge staff refused to designate them as Muslim or erroneously dismissed requests to be designated as such to limit the number of Muslim inmates able to fast. In 2019, Muslim Advocates also warned VADOC about practices at two other Virginia state prisons that prevented incarcerated Muslims from fasting during Ramadan.

“The Virginia Department of Corrections, Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring were warned about these egregious religious freedom violations. In response, we received a  regurgitation of existing policies without any commitment to investigating the claims or increasing oversight over problematic facilities like Wallens Ridge,” said Muslim Advocates Staff Attorney Nimra Azmi. “Because of Virginia’s refusal to take adequate steps, we are continuing our investigation. It’s unacceptable that incarcerated Muslims in Virginia reported not being able to fast during Ramadan and that VADOC and elected officials took no steps to protect them. Religious freedom is a foundational value in Virginia. Virginia must uphold that legacy by shedding needed light on inhibitions on the right of Muslim inmates to worship.”

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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.