By Ayanna Gandhi
MACOMB COUNTY, MI – The Michigan chapter of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) announced a lawsuit Monday against Macomb County Jail in Michigan, in support of a Jewish prisoner who was denied a Kosher diet.
CAIR reports that “In November 2017, Plaintiff Brandon Resch was transferred from Oakland County Jail, in Michigan, where he was receiving a Kosher diet, to Macomb County Jail. He requested a Kosher diet at Macomb County Jail, had an interview with their chaplain, and was denied a religious Kosher diet by the jail because he didn’t have the ability to write to a Rabbi and obtain a ‘letter of good standing.’ ”
CAIR-MI is a “local [Michigan] chapter of the nation’s largest civil liberties and advocacy organization.” CAIR works to “protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.”
In response to the events of 2017, CAIR has “filed a notice of appearance as legal representative of the Plaintiff Brandon Resch in the lawsuit.”
“Under no circumstances do a person’s religious rights depend on whether or not they are a member in good standing of a religious organization,” said CAIR-MI Staff Attorney, Amy V. Doukoure.
She added that Macomb County’s policy of requiring an individual housed in its jail to contact a religious leader — at their own expense and when they may not have access to phone numbers and addresses — to “obtain a letter of ‘good standing’ prior to being afforded a religious diet places an undue burden on the individual’s religious practice in violation of the Constitution and the law.”
She argued that CAIR-MI believes it is important to “protect the religious liberties of members of all faiths….the Muslim civil rights organization views this case as a matter of importance to members both the Jewish and Muslim communities who observe dietary restrictions based on their fundamental religious beliefs.”
While this instance was more recent, there have been such incidents which CAIR has been involved in even before 2017.
The Miami-Dade Local 10 reported in 2015, “The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida filed a lawsuit Thursday, challenging a policy they claim denies religious meals to Muslim inmates at Miami-Dade County jails.”
The lawsuit apparently was filed when “Muslim inmates were provided kosher meals, which the inmates were OK with, until October 2014, when the county pulled the option,” although “inmates of other religions are still provided kosher meals if requested.”
ACLU and CAIR’s joint lawsuit “claims authorities with the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department have refused to serve Halal meals to four Muslim inmates, while providing faith-based meals to inmates of other religions.”
Miami Dade’s local news also reported, “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.
“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,” she added.
The 2015 lawsuit defined a Halal diet, saying it, “prohibits the consumption of meat from certain animals or their derivatives, such as pork. Animals that are eaten are to be slaughtered in a particular manner, and the diet prohibits the consumption of alcohol or food containing alcohol.
Under Islamic principles, “Halal food is not to come into contact with non-Halal foods.”
The lawsuit argued, “The law is clear. The right to practice your religion without government interference is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director at CAIR Florida, said, “The county’s excuses for their unlawful discrimination and refusal to provide a proper religious diet to the Muslim inmates are completely without merit. You shouldn’t have to choose between starving yourself and practicing your religion.”
The 2015 lawsuit appears to be applicable to the current day proceeding over the 2017 incident, CAIR-MI said, adding that it has given correctional officers and jail administration the resource titled, “A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices, in hopes that it will help them to gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.”
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