View Full Version : Article: Muslim prisoners lose ruling

09-15-2003, 11:06 PM
Muslim prisoners lose ruling
A court said N.J. did not have to offer a ritually pure diet. Vegetarian should suffice, it said.
By David B. Caruso
Associated Press

Vegetarian prison food may not be the best, but state prisons in New Jersey are not breaking the law by serving it to Muslim inmates who have asked for meals that conform to their religious standards, a federal appeals court says.

Ruling in a case similar to dozens filed by prisoners from around the country, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia upheld a lower court's finding that the state is not obligated to serve two Muslim inmates meals with meat that is halal, slaughtered according to Islamic law.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Dolores K. Sloviter sided with New Jersey officials, who said it would be too expensive to add halal meals to the prison menu. Prison authorities also said allowing prisoners to get meals prepared outside the prison would require each meal to be passed through an X-ray machine for security reasons.

"Based on the record evidence, we agree with the district court that providing vegetarian meals, rather than halal meals with meat, is rationally related to the legitimate penological interests in simplified food service, security, and staying within the prison's budget," Sloviter wrote.

It is too early to know whether the ruling will be a blow to other Muslim inmates, who have argued with varying success in prisons around the country that dietary restrictions are protected by the constitution.

For prisoners, whether they can get halal meals depends largely on where they serve their time. Federal prisons offer kosher, halal and vegetarian meals, but some states have resisted prisoner requests for special diets.