Thursday, September 23, 2010

US: Two followers of Islam are suing County, claiming Muslims are prohibited from practicing their religion appropriately while incarcerated in jail


And how would you like your halal steak sir?

The men seek unspecified damages and an injunction to halt the alleged discriminatory practices. They also seek to have the lawsuit declared a class action to protect “all Muslim men incarcerated, now or in the future, at the Pierce County Jail.”

Two followers of Islam are suing Pierce County, claiming Muslims are prohibited from practicing their religion appropriately while incarcerated in the county jail.

An attorney for the county Wednesday called the lawsuit, filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, misguided.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Interest Law Group filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of Raymond Wesley Garland and Larry Edward Tarrer. The two claim jail officials burden Muslims by:

• Forbidding them from participating in group prayer.

• Refusing to accommodate their dietary restrictions by, among other things, offering no halal meats during meals and failing to provide dates during holy day observances.

• Prohibiting certain religious clothing and other items “integral to Islamic faith and worship.”

The men also complain that incarcerated Christians receive preferential treatment, including a separate living unit known informally as the “God pod.”

“Throughout their incarcerations at the jail, plaintiffs have experienced various forms of religious discrimination, harassment and interference with their ability to practice Islam,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also names the Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, and eight jail officials, including Chief of Corrections Martha Karr.

The men seek unspecified damages and an injunction to halt the alleged discriminatory practices. They also seek to have the lawsuit declared a class action to protect “all Muslim men incarcerated, now or in the future, at the Pierce County Jail.”

Deputy prosecutor Craig Adams, who represents the jail, said Wednesday that county officials work diligently to accommodate the religious needs of all inmates. That includes consulting with clerics and other religious experts to determine the tenets of faiths, he said.

The jail was required to address the religious needs of inmates as part of an agreement settling a 1996 lawsuit.

“I was surprised by this lawsuit,” Adams said. “Their complaints do not seem very well researched.”

Muslim inmates are offered meals that contain no pork, given towels on which to say their prayers and afforded access to lavatories to perform ritual cleansing before praying, Adams said.

Jail officials serve Muslim inmates their meals between dusk and dawn during the holy month of Ramadan so they can fast during daylight as their religion requires, he said.

Jail commanders also allowed Tarrer, 37, and Garland, 26, to live in the same unit so they could pray together, Adams said.

Garland recently was shipped off to state prison to begin serving a 28-year, 10-month sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder, second-degree assault and unlawfully possessing a firearm in a 2004 shooting that left a man dead.

He is expected to return to the jail early next year while he stands trial in an unrelated assault case.

Tarrer was booked into the jail in June 2008 after his 1991 conviction for second-degree murder was overturned on appeal.

He’s currently being retried on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors allege he shot two women, one of them pregnant. One of the victims died and the surviving woman’s baby died after being delivered by Caesarian section.

Tarrer and Garland take particular umbrage with the so-called “God pod.”

Known formally as the “responsible living unit,” the pod was established five or six years ago as part of a nationwide rehabilitation effort aimed at helping hardened inmates to change their ways, Adams said.

“Through a variety of methods inmates will receive instruction and training of Biblical principles that pertain to all areas of life; i.e. relationships, addictions, anger management, finances, etc.,” according to a description of the program on the jail’s website.

Thirty-one of the jail’s approximately 1,400 inmates Wednesday were assigned to the responsible living unit, Adams said. Those inmates received no special privileges, he said.

Tarrer contends in the lawsuit he asked to join the unit but was told it was populated entirely by Christians and he “would not fit in well.”

That’s discrimination based on religion, his lawyers argue, and the unit is an unconstitutional “governmental establishment of religion.”

Inmates suing over religious grounds is commonplace across the nation.

Judges in nine U.S. District Courts issued rulings in several such lawsuits during the first week of September alone, according to the blog Religion Clause, which tracks litigation involving inmates and religion.

Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/09/23/1352832/jail-limits-religion-lawsuit-suggests.html#ixzz10NajhXcq

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