February 16, 2023
Issues: Law Enforcement Bias, Religious Freedom
Muslim Groups to SCOTUS: Protect Religious Liberties in Prisons
Muslim Advocates and Muslim Justice League File Brief in Support of Incarcerated Muslim Suing Over Denied Religious Accommodations
Washington, DC — On Wednesday, Muslim Advocates and Muslim Justice League jointly filed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take a case involving an incarcerated Muslim man suing a Georgia prison. The brief also asks the court to protect well-established federal religious accommodation protections for incarcerated people.
The amicus brief was filed in support of Hjalmar Rodriguez Jr., a Muslim man suing Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison, for denying him ghusl, a pre-prayer bathing ritual, and requests for modesty. Muslims are overrepresented in prisons and, as religious minorities, experience disproportionate rates of discrimination by prison officials.
The case appeals a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that would only consider challenges to denials of religious accommodations if the incarcerated person can come up with a whole new policy for the facility, rather than ask for a simple, individualized accommodation. With Ramadan approaching, it is not difficult to imagine the impact this rule might have: a prison could get away with refusing to accommodate someone’s fast simply because that person didn’t ask them to change everyone’s meal times. This absurd rule improperly lowers the floor for constitutional protections for incarcerated individuals, particularly those who are religious minorities in the deep southern states under the Eleventh Circuit’s jurisdiction (Alabama, Florida, Georgia). It cannot be allowed to gain traction in the other circuits.
Religious minorities in prison are especially susceptible to the type of discrimination the First Amendment was designed to prevent. The Muslim groups’ amicus brief calls on the Supreme Court to reaffirm decades of legal precedent that allow individual accommodations to prison policies that are reasonable when applied to most people, but burden the religious practice of others. This has been the way the First Amendment has governed religious practice in prisons for decades and, if it is to change, it should be made more protective, not less.
“The conditions under which Mr. Rodriguez was held should shock our consciences,” said Muslim Advocates Staff Attorney Chris Godshall-Bennett. “Under the horrific conditions we continue to permit in U.S. prisons, religious practice is an essential tool of survival. State carceral facilities must not be permitted to so flippantly disregard these essential liberties. The Eleventh Circuit’s rule does justify that and must be corrected immediately.”
“From Guantanamo to Georgia, we know that Muslims face some of the most abhorrent conditions in the prison industrial complex. The very least we can do for those cut off from humanity is ensure their basic religious rights are met,” said Muslim Justice League Executive Director Fatema Ahmad.
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.
Muslim Justice League (MJL)’s mission is to organize and advocate for communities whose rights are threatened under the national security state in the United States. Led by Muslims, our organizing brings justice for ALL communities deemed “suspect.”