DOC must provide meat-based diet to Muslim inmate at State Prison

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The Indiana Department of Correction must provide a Muslim inmate at a maximum-security prison in Michigan City with kosher meals that include meat after a district judge determined that the prison’s refusal to serve the man a meat-based diet violates his religious beliefs.

That decision, handed down in the case of Roman Lee Jones v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, 1:16-cv-2887, ruled the Department of Correction is to provide Roman Lee Jones with pre-packaged, meat-based kosher meals distributed at other DOC facilities. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Judge William T. Lawrence found Tuesday that the prison’s refusal to serve Jones a meat-based diet was a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

After his incarceration at the Indiana State Prison, Jones requested a halal diet that would be in accordance with his practice of Islam. While a halal diet does include avoiding prohibited foods, Jones said it also includes not avoiding certain foods given to humans by Allah, including meat.

In order to satisfy the needs of prisoners with religious-based dietary restrictions, the DOC set up separate kosher kitchens at five facilities, including ISP, that serve vegan-based diets. However, if inmates requesting the special meals cannot be housed at one of the five facilities with the separate kitchens, then they are served pre-packed kosher meals that contain fish or kosher meat.

Jones conceded that eating a kosher diet would be acceptable to his religious practices, yet maintained that his diet must be meat-based. All kosher meals served from those five facilities are vegan. Thus, he argued that imposing the vegetarian diet on him when the pre-packaged, meat-based meals were still available was in violation of his rights under RLUIPA.

Lawrence agreed, finding that Jones’ belief in a meat-based diet is a sincerely held religious belief. Further, the judge found ISP could not prove that forcing Jones to eat a vegan diet could pass strict scrutiny.

“While the defendant argues that he has a compelling interest in avoiding the substantial costs that could result if numerous prisoners seek a meat-based halal diet and that the public interest would not be served by straining the budget and impinging on prison security, Jones has brought this lawsuit as an individual, not as part of a class action,” Lawrence wrote. “Further, as Jones has acknowledged that a kosher diet tray with kosher meat is acceptable – though not preferable – the provision of the pre-packaged kosher meal tray already available at those facilities without kosher kitchens will be minimally burdensome to the Defendant.”

Judgment was entered in Jones’ favor, and his motion for a preliminary injunction was denied as moot.

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