A federal judge on Thursday granted a restraining order prohibiting prison guards in Alaska from giving Muslim inmates pork for their only meal during Ramadan.
Anchorage Correctional Complex had been allowing Muslim inmates to “starve,” as consuming pork is forbidden in Islam, said the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which filed a lawsuit against the prison on Tuesday. According to the lawsuit, the meals were also below caloric and nutritional standards, resulting in a violation of the constitution’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
CAIR has requested a “balanced nutritional diet” for the inmates, as well as policy changes and punitive damages for those affected.
The lawsuit describes a particularly disturbing incident in which a correctional officer conducted a “shake down” of two Muslim inmates’ cells, confiscating all the food they had saved for breaking their fasts, including hamburgers they had traded with other inmates in exchange for the pork they could not eat. That day, neither of the inmates were provided meals to eat.
In a statement announcing the restraining order, CAIR attributed the treatment of the prisoners to the “unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president.”
In similar suits filed last month, the organization claimed that the Michigan Department of Corrections denied a pregnant Muslim inmate’s right to prayer by refusing her a Quran, a hijab, a prayer rug, meals that do not contain pork, and clergy visits. The complaint characterized the treatment as religious discrimination, noting that Christian inmates are given Bibles and Christian clergy members are allowed unannounced visits, while Muslim religious volunteers are often turned away.
“This is a travesty,” Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-Michigan, said during a press conference, according to the Detroit News. “It is troublesome we were forced to file complaints about denying appropriate food accommodations for an eight-month pregnant woman.”
Another complaint from 2016 alleged that prison guards at Denver’s Sterling Correctional Facility pepper sprayed three Muslim inmates during their prayer service.
Such treatment of Muslim inmates has been taking place for years. According to a 2009 study titled “Jailhouse Islamophobia: Anti-Muslim Discrimination in American Prisons,” in the five years following the September 11, 2001 attacks, “Muslims brought the greatest number of religious discrimination claims.” This includes being denied halal meals, Qurans, and prayer attire, as well as being forbidden from celebrating religious holidays, reciting prayers, and being made to choose between access to prayer services or prison libraries.
“In many cases, prison authorities have justiﬁed restrictions on Muslim prisoners as a necessary means of ensuring not only prison safety but also homeland security,” the study found. “Their argument is that Muslim religious services may be used as a means of fostering Islamic radicalization” — a racist rationale rooted in the false idea that Islam, as a faith, is inherently violent.