Washington, D.C. — Muslim Advocates signed onto two amicus briefs, joining dozens of faith-based and civil rights groups, to urge the Fifth and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals to award monetary damages to two formerly incarcerated men in their religious discrimination lawsuits.
In both cases, Damon Landor and Thomas Walker are devout Rastafarian men who had their dreadlocks forcibly removed in prison despite alerting the officials that their dreadlocks were part of their religious beliefs. Landor had grown his dreadlocks for 20 years before he was shaved bald in a Louisiana correctional facility; Walker was housed in an Illinois correctional facility when he had his dreadlocks forcibly removed under threat of disciplinary action.
“Wearing one’s hair in dreadlocks is a part of Mr. Landor’s and Mr. Walker’s Rastafarian religious practice. What prison officials did to both Mr. Landor and Mr. Walker was not just unfathomable, it was inhumane. Damages must be awarded to protect the religious liberties of incarcerated individuals and to put an end to the impunity with which bad actors operate in the prison context,” said Reem Subei, senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates.
Muslim Advocates is proud to stand in solidarity with dozens of faith-based organizations to demand that damages be awarded to both men under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“The ability to receive monetary damages for past harms is vitally important for religious prisoners, especially those of minority faiths, like Mr. Walker. Without the ability to receive damages, there is often no recourse for a Sikh who is forced to shave his beard, a Muslim who is required to starve during Ramadan rather than receive meals at the right time of day or a Jewish prisoner who is denied kosher meals,” said Francesca Matozzo, a legal fellow at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic, which also filed amicus briefs in both cases.
Prison officials often lack incentives to protect religious rights of incarcerated individuals in their care, and religious minorities are at greatest risk for having their freedoms infringed upon, just as in both Landor and Walker’s cases. The briefs assert that monetary damages should be interpreted as appropriate relief under RLUIPA and that it is necessary as both a remedy and as a deterrent of future violations. Damages also allow the courts greater oversight of prisons and finally end the same abuses happening in different prisons all over the country.
The Walker brief signed by Muslim Advocates was drafted by the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic. The Landor brief signed by Muslim Advocates was drafted by Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.
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.