Islamic Law in U.S. Courts: McDaniels v. Elfo (W.D. Wash. 2013): Religious Accommodations for Prisoners

Plaintiff Peter McDaniels sued various prison officials, alleging that they intentionally failed to provide him with pre-sunrise meals during Ramadan and with an Eid al-Fitr meal at the conclusion of Ramadan, in violation of his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. The Plaintiff also contended that the lack of provision of ḥalāl meat and deprivation of an Arabic Qurʾān for nine months were discriminatory violations of his rights. The Respondents moved for summary judgment. The District Court granted the Respondents’ request for summary judgment on the Ramadan meals issue, stating that the Plaintiff failed to show that such failures to provide a meal on isolated incidents imposed a significant restriction on his religious practice. However, the District Court decided that the Respondents did not meet their burden of demonstrating that the religious diet policy furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest. The District Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the Respondents deprived the Plaintiff of his rights by not allowing him access to a Qurʾān, finding that the Respondents were not required to provide the Plaintiff with an Arabic Qurʾān or dates to be used in his devotional practice, given the absence of any showing that Respondents prevented him from obtaining such items. The Plaintiff did not seek injunctive relief, but the Court found that the individual Respondents were entitled to qualified immunity, so they could not be held liable for personal damages under RLUIPA.

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