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Come on, Florida, let Muslim prisoners practice their faith

By Becket Adams, For The Washington Examiner, On 06 July 2018, Read Original
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The right to worship is not unique to free U.S. citizens.

Someone should tell that to the administrators of the Glades County Detention Center, where Muslim detainees, some of whom are slated for deportation, were denied accommodations to observe Ramadan this year, according to the advocacy group Americans for Immigrant Justice.

The Florida detention center, which doubles as an ICE holding pen, has been accused of making it all but impossible for its Muslim detainees to observe the faith by "denying them access to the Ramadan list and by also providing inedible and insufficient quantities of food to those who fast."

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"Moreover," the AIJ said in a letter this month, "there are a number of other GCDC policies and practices — including lack of access to halal meals and frequent cancellations of weekly congregational prayer services — that prevent Muslim men detained in the facility from practicing their faith."

On a human level, denying religious accommodations to Muslim detainees is a clear violation of their freedom to worship. On a legal level, the alleged violations appear to run afoul of legal precedent. There's also the issue of the contradiction between the facility's practices and ICE’s stated standards.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 bars state and local governments from imposing “a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution” unless the government can show imposition on religious freedom “is the least restrictive means” of furthering “a compelling governmental interest.” This is a lot like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but for inmates.


As the term “institution” includes “a jail, prison, or other correctional facility” and “a pretrial detention facility,” the Glades County Detention Center would certainly seem to be in violation of this 2000 law.

There's also the case of Holt v. Hobbs, in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an Arkansas prison had violated a Muslim inmate’s RLUIPA’s rights when it refused to let him grow a beard in accordance with his faith.

Third, there's the case Yellowbear v. Lampert, in which Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion favoring a Native American inmate who had been denied religious accommodations. Gorsuch concluded that the prison failed to uphold RLUIPA’s requirement that they demonstrate a “compelling government interest” to deny the accommodations and that it also failed the “least restrictive” test.

As to the obvious question of whether non-U.S. citizen prisoners qualify for religious protections, the answer is simple: Yes, as an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told the Washington Examiner Friday.

“Citizenship doesn’t matter one way or another,” he said. “[The detainees] have a right to freedom to worship … and RLUIPA’s protections ought to apply in the case of ICE detainees.”

Finally, ICE’s own guidelines instruct that “special diets shall be provided for detainees whose religious beliefs require adherence to religious dietary laws” and that the “facility administrator shall facilitate the observance of important religious holy days that involve special fasts, dietary regulations, worship or work proscription.”

And again: “When a detainee’s religion requires special food services, daily or during certain holy days or periods that involve fasting, restricted diets, etc., staff shall make all reasonable efforts to accommodate those requirements (e.g., by modifying the detainee’s menus to exclude certain foods or food combinations or providing the detainee’s meals at unusual hours).”

I would love to know what the reasoning is here for the Glades facility ignoring these guidelines, but it doesn't look like I’ll find out any time soon. ICE has been remarkably cagey about the whole affair, and has even ignored multiple requests for comment, including from the Examiner.


Update: June 15, 4:30 pm.

ICE provided the Examiner with the following statement, which maintains they found in March 2018 that the Glades facility followed all protocols regarding religious observances:

In March 2018, Glades County underwent their Annual Detention Inspection to ensure compliance with National Detention Standards. The facility received an acceptable rating.
Glades County met all Standards as they relate to Food Services including providing Ramadan, Kosher and meatless meals for detainees who abstain from certain foods or fasting for religious purposes. The inspectional group also found that the meals were found to be within proper temperature ranges.

It's probably worth noting here that this statement references an inspection that took place months before the start of Ramadan, which began this year on May 15. The aforementioned ICE inspection was also performed months before the the Americans for Immigrant Justice published a letter lobbying the government agency to ease up the alleged restrictions. The ICE statement adds:

Glades County also met all Standards as they relate to Religious Services. The inspectors found that “detainees of different religious beliefs are provided reasonable and equitable opportunities to participate in the practice of their respective faiths.
ICE ensures facilities operate in compliance with its rigorous national detention standards through these aggressive inspection programs.

The Americans for Immigrant Justice has not yet responded to the Examiner's request for comment.

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