April 27, 2022
Issue: Religious Freedom
Virginia Prison Offers Ramadan Accommodations After Muslim Advocates, ACLU Intervene
After Initially Refusing to Feed an Incarcerated Muslim During Non-Fasting Hours, Prison Reverses Course
Baskerville, VA — On Tuesday, a state prison in Baskerville, VA agreed to reverse its decision to prevent Dwayne Law, Jr.—an incarcerated Muslim—from receiving meals before dawn and after sunset in accordance with Ramadan. Baskerville Correctional Center’s reversal came after a Muslim Advocates attorney traveled to the prison on Monday and met with Mr. Law. Muslim Advocates and the ACLU of Virginia, who are representing Mr. Law, filed an emergency complaint that same day asking a federal court to force Baskerville to provide him with meals before dawn and after sunset. On Wednesday morning, Muslim Advocates and the ACLU of Virginia filed a joint stipulated dismissal of the complaint with Baskerville that secures a formal agreement allowing Mr. Law to participate in programs related to his Ramadan fast.
This year, Ramadan lasts from April 1 to May 1. Many Muslims worldwide spend the holy month fasting during daylight hours. That means they can only eat before sunrise and after sunset. On April 7, 2022, Mr. Law was transferred to Baskerville Correctional Center, where he was initially given meals during non-daylight hours. However, on April 17, 2022, Baskerville abruptly changed course and refused to provide Mr. Law with this Ramadan accommodation based on a previous prison’s failure to properly document him as being allowed to participate in Islamic activities.
As a result, Mr. Law has spent nearly all of his Ramadan eating only what he can purchase from the commissary at night. At a meeting, an assistant warden told Mr. Law that the prison would not allow him to eat during non-daylight hours no matter what he did. When other incarcerated Muslims tried to support Mr. Law, Captain L. Butcher, a correctional officer at Baskerville, tried to deter them, saying that he “is not a real Muslim.” The joint stipulated dismissal ensures that Mr. Law will once again be able to join other incarcerated Muslims at the prison who receive meals before sunrise and after sunset throughout the remainder of Ramadan.
“This agreement is a bittersweet win for Mr. Law and for religious liberty,” said Muslim Advocates Legal Fellow Chris Godshall-Bennett. “Allowing Mr. Law to join his fellow Muslims receiving meals during Ramadan hours was an easy lift for Baskerville and the fact that they refused to do so until we intervened is a tragedy. Mr. Law is an inspiration and we hope his brave choice to speak out reminds Baskerville and the Virginia Department of Corrections that the nation is watching and they must respect the rights of the people in their care.”
“There are only a handful of days left in Ramadan and we are relieved that Mr. Law will be able to spend them fasting alongside Muslims worldwide but it is an insult to the Constitution that Baskerville forced Mr. Law to spend several days of this holy month choosing between practicing his faith and basic sustenance,” said Muslim Advocates Senior Staff Attorney Reem Subei. “It should not have taken Mr. Law’s dogged protests and the combined efforts of two civil rights organizations to get Baskerville to do something as simple and obvious as giving an incarcerated Muslim meals before dawn and sunset for a month.”
“What happened to Mr. Law should never happen again—to him or any person at Baskerville and in the Virginia prison system,” said Eden Heilman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “This tragic episode shines a stark light on how easy it is for prisons to ignore the constitutionally-protected rights of incarcerated people. What happened at Baskerville is playing out every day in prisons across the nation and we must do everything we can to ensure the religious freedom rights of incarcerated people are respected.”
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.
The ACLU of Virginia promotes civil liberties and civil rights for everyone in the Commonwealth through public education, litigation, and advocacy with the goal of securing freedom and equality for all. For more information on the ACLU of Virginia go to www.acluva.org.