(ATLANTA, GA - 5/25/2018) The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations today thanked the Cobb County Jail for resolving a complaint filed by a Muslim inmate who had been denied the opportunity to properly break his Ramadan fast, as well as access to kosher food.
"We thank the Cobb County Jail for quickly changing course and doing the right thing," said Murtaza Khwaja, staff attorney for CAIR Georgia. "Preventing this inmate from properly breaking his fast was a serious constitutional violation. So was denying him access to the jail's supply of kosher food. We appreciate the county's decision to rectify these problems after we brought them to its attention."
On May 23, the family of a Muslim-American inmate at the Cobb County Jail contacted CAIR Georgia for assistance.
The inmate had been fasting from dawn to sunset since May 17th in observance of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
However, the Cobb County inmate had allegedly gone days without eating because the jail suddenly stopped providing him meals before dawn or after sunset or before dawn. The inmate was also denied access to kosher food, which is already available at the jail upon request.
Prisons and jails across the United States typically provide fasting inmates with food before dawn and after sunset to ensure that inmates are able to eat during Ramadan. Prisons also provide kosher, vegetarian, and sometimes halal, meal options upon request.
CAIR Georgia filed a complaint with the jail, which investigated the issue, reported that the inmate had been "mistakenly" removed from its Ramadan food delivery list, and added him back to the list.
The jail initially stood by its decision to deny the inmate access to kosher meals, arguing that the Jewish rules for kosher meat are not the same as the Islamic rules for halal meat. But the jail reversed course after CAIR Georgia explained why some Muslims eat kosher food, as well as the correct legal standard for determining whether the government must grant the inmate's request for an accommodation.
In a statement, CAIR Georgia executive director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said:
"The First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom does not end at the walls of a jail. The Constitution requires jails to grant reasonable religious accommodations to their inmates. That's why federal, state and local prisons allow inmates who fast during Ramadan to eat food before dawn and after sunset. That's also why prisons allow people of various faiths to eat food prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs, including kosher, halal and vegetarian meals.
"Although the Muslim inmate at the Cobb County Jail had the right to request a halal (Arabic for "permissible") meal, he did not do so. He only sought a kosher meal. Kosher meals are readily available at the jail, but the jail initially denied his request.
"The jail contended that the Jewish rules for kosher meat are too dissimilar from the Islamic rules for halal meat, but this reasoning was both mistaken and irrelevant for two reasons.
"First, the dietary rules of Judaism and Islam are, in fact, similar. For example, many Jewish and Muslim Americans only eat meat from an animal if a member of their faith rendered the animal unconscious by a cut to the jugular vein, allowed all blood to drain from the animal to reduce the risk of blood-borne illness, and invoked the God of Abraham during the process.
"Secondly, the determining legal factor in this situation was not the the jail's opinion about whether kosher meals and halal meals are sufficiently similar. The determining factor was whether the inmate asked to eat kosher meals because of a sincerely held religious belief.
"Because this inmate did indeed ask for kosher meals as part of his sincerely held religious beliefs, and because those meals are readily available, the Cobb County Jail was obligated to grant his request. We thank the jail for agreeing to do so. We also hope that this incident will, God willing, make life easier for people of all faiths who seek to practice their religion in correctional institutions."