ACLU Sues Prison to Appease Muslims Over Meal Times

Update: Miriam answers my question…heh.

I’m sure I just don’t understand the strict requirements of the Muslim religion. If someone does their prayer time 20 minutes earlier or later than the exact, correct time of the day, is Allah not available to listen? Do they have a penalty placed on their prayer or something? I’m sure someone can show me something in the Koran where mutilation or decapitation is required for penance, but what I really don’t understand is how a prison providing meals and schedules to all their prisoners equally violates the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming that a Wyoming State Penitentiary policy restricting prisoners’ mealtimes violates the constitutional rights of two Muslim inmates.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Joseph Miller and Hurie Purdiman Jr., two inmates serving time at the penitentiary in Rawlins.

At issue is an alleged “20-minute rule” requiring inmates to eat their meals within 20 minutes after the food is delivered to a cell or common dining area, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit seeks for the inmates to be exempted from the rule because it forces them to choose between eating and practicing their religion.

Miller and Purdiman claim that meals have arrived at the same time of day that they’re practicing prayers according to their Muslim faith. On other occasions, meals arrived during a period of religious fasting and then were confiscated before the fast ended at sunset.

“If someone has started their prayer, unless they’re willing to interrupt their prayer and leave at that moment, they forgo their meal because (the guards) won’t go back and open their cell doors,” said Jennifer Horvath, staff attorney for Wyoming Chapter of the ACLU. “It’s not unreasonable to ask for some extra time to finish their meals. They have a right to practice their religion, and the prison has been treating it as a privilege.”

The lawsuit names Robert Lampert, director of the Department of Corrections, and Michael Murphy, warden of the Wyoming State Penitentiary. It claims the prison’s policy violates the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

Lampert said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment directly on its claims. But he said the prison has measures in place to accommodate inmates’ religious or health needs.

He said trays and utensils are generally collected less than 30 minutes from when they were delivered to inmates so the dishes can be washed in time for the next meal.

“If an inmate has a medical reason that requires additional time to consume their meal, we take that into account, or if it’s for a religious purpose, we accommodate those needs,” Lampert said. “I think those issues are pretty well addressed through our policy, but I’ll look and see what actual lawsuit alleges.”

So, someone please tell me how a prison providing meals and clean-up according to a schedule is Congress making a law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Another good point brought up in the comments is on how absolute rights are lost once you are convicted guilty of a crime. If the ACLU wins this, should they fight for incarcerated criminals’ second amendment rights next?

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