Facility Denied Religious Freedom Rights to Muslim Man, Saying he was “Not a Real Muslim”
Baskerville, VA — With the end of Ramadan fast approaching, Dwayne Law, Jr.—a Muslim man incarcerated at a state prison in Baskerville, VA—filed an emergency complaint on Monday asking a federal court to force the facility to provide him with meals before sunrise and after sunset so that he may observe the Muslim holy month. By refusing to allow Mr. Law to eat with other fasting Muslims during non-daylight hours, Baskerville Correctional Center staff and Warden David Zook are unconstitutionally forcing him to choose between eating to survive during the day or adhering to his deeply-held religious beliefs. Mr. Law is being represented by Muslim Advocates and the ACLU of Virginia.
Mr. Law was previously incarcerated at Green Rock Correctional Center in Chatham, VA, where he was improperly denied meal accommodations timed for Ramadan fasting. On April 7, 2022, Mr. Law was transferred to Baskerville Correctional Center, where he was initially given Ramadan meal accommodations. However, on April 17, 2022, Baskerville abruptly changed course and refused to provide Mr. Law with meals during Ramadan hours based on Green Rock Correctional Center’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—including microwaveable ramen, canned mackerel and potato chips. At a meeting, an assistant warden even tried to pressure Mr. Law into dropping his complaints, saying that the facility 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.” This is a clear violation of Mr. Law’s constitutional rights to observe his Muslim faith.
With the end of this year’s Ramadan approaching on May 2, Mr. Law, Muslim Advocates and the ACLU of Virginia asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to intervene and force Baskerville Correctional Center to allow him to eat with other incarcerated Muslims before sunrise and after sunset. Mr. Law also asked the facility to cover his attorneys fees and other costs.
“Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims and both Green Rock Correctional Center and Baskerville Correctional Center have arbitrarily decided to prevent Dwayne Law, Jr. from accessing meals in accordance with his faith,” said Muslim Advocates Legal Fellow Chris Godshall-Bennett. “Immediate injunctive relief will allow Mr. Law to practice his faith and to eat meals at religiously appropriate times. With the end of Ramadan fast approaching, we urge the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to do the morally and legally right thing and allow Mr. Law to finally exercise his constitutional right to practice his faith.”
“Mr. Law is being arbitrarily denied a basic meal-time accommodation, forcing him to go on fasting whole days on one daily meal, as well as causing him fatigue and exhaustion. And when he explained such to the guards at Baskerville, he was outrageously told that he could simply choose to violate his religious beliefs and quit fasting,” said Muslim Advocates Senior Staff Attorney Reem Subei. “The Constitution does not stop at prison bars and it is not the government’s place to decide who is a real Muslim and who should get to exercise their religious freedom rights.”
“Baskerville staff could accommodate Mr. Law by serving him meals at the same time that other fasting Muslims break fast,” said Eden Heilman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Providing incarcerated Muslims with a morning meal served before dawn, a meal after sunset, and a bagged meal that may be eaten at night is a simple, inexpensive accommodation of religious belief. ACLU of Virginia urges VDOC to appropriately accommodate Mr. Law’s Ramadan fast and the religious practices of all people in Virginia prisons.”
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.