Following years of legal challenges involving religious inmates in Florida prisons and their right to eat meals based on the dietary principals of their faith, the ACLU of Florida and Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida has filed a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department for refusing to serve Muslim inmates halal meals.
"Just because individuals are being detained in jail doesn’t mean that the county can unilaterally strip them of their First Amendment right to practice their faith,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida, in a statement. “Where the County offers faith-based meals to inmates of other faiths, it should not deny these meals to Muslim inmates just by professing ignorance of Islam — especially when the inmates themselves and Muslim organizations have made clear the requirements of their faith.”
The controversy kicked off back in October 2014 when Miami-Dade Corrections changed its Faith-Based Meals Policy to recommend that Muslim inmates who requested halal meals instead be served food from the general menu.
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The Department claims that their long-time volunteer Imam approved the general populations meals and claims they all meet halal requirements, but prisoners beg to differ.
Halal dietary codes generally forbid the consumption of pork and some other animal products, forbids the use of alcohol, and requires that any meat used must be slaughtered in a certain way under the name of Allah.
CAIR and the ACLU have advocated since January on behalf of Muslim inmates that the general population foods do not indeed meet halal requirements, and claims it's unfair that Jewish inmates have kosher options while Muslim inmates are relegated to the general population diet.
The suit follows nearly a decades long controversy involving religious meals in the Florida state prison system. The state abruptly ended its faith-based meal program in 2007 and after years of advocacy groups trying to reinstate the program, a lawsuit was filed. The state began serving kosher meals again in 2010, but earlier this year a court ruled that Florida prisons must not only serve kosher meals but also special meals for Muslim and Seventh-Day Adventists. The order prohibits the state from dropping the program again.