Islamic Law in U.S. Courts: Vega v. Lantz (D. Conn. 2012): Religious Accommodations for Prisoners

Plaintiff Joe Burgos Vega, a practicing Muslim prisoner at the Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”), brought this action against the Respondents, officials at the DOC, claiming that Respondents’ 1) denial of the Plaintiff’s request to be circumcised; 2) denial of access to suitable Islamic prayer oils; and 3) frequently canceled Friday congregational prayer constituted a violation of his right to exercise his religion. The Respondents argued that they are entitled to qualified immunity from suit in their individual capacities. The Court sided with the Respondents, finding that 1) prisoners have no constitutional or statutory right to a surgery that is not medically necessary; 2) DOC officers did not violate the Plaintiff’s right with regard to prayer oils, because they provided him with access to the imam-approved commissary oil; and 3) that although prisoners have the right to participate in group religious services, the frequent Friday prayer cancellations were reasonable because they occurred due to a shortage of volunteer imams and that other opportunities for religious practice were available to Muslim inmates.

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