The Michigan chapter of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), a local chapter of the nation’s largest civil liberties and advocacy organization, announced its appearance as counsel on behalf of a Jewish man who was denied a religious Kosher diet while being housed at the Macomb County Jail in 2017.
In November 2017, Plaintiff Brandon Resch was transferred from Oakland County Jail, where he was receiving a Kosher diet, to Macomb County Jail. He requested a Kosher diet at Macomb County Jail, had an interview with their chaplain, and was denied a religious Kosher diet by the jail because he didn’t have the ability to write to a Rabbi and obtain a “letter of good standing.”
CAIR-MI has filed a notice of appearance as legal representative of the Plaintiff Brandon Resch in the lawsuit.
“Under no circumstances do a person’s religious rights depend on whether or not they are a member in good standing of a religious organization,” said CAIR-MI Staff Attorney, Amy V. Doukoure. “Macomb County’s policy of requiring an individual housed in its jail to contact a religious leader — at their own expense and when they may not have access to phone numbers and addresses — to obtain a letter of ‘good standing’ prior to being afforded a religious diet places an undue burden on the individual’s religious practice in violation of the Constitution and the law.”
She added that it is CAIR-MI’s position that it is important to protect the religious liberties of members of all faiths and the Muslim civil rights organization views this case as a matter of importance to members both the Jewish and Muslim communities who observe dietary restrictions based on their fundamental religious beliefs.
The Washington-based civil rights organization offers an educational toolkit, called “A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” to help correctional officers and administrators gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.
CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims. While this instance was more recent, there have been such incidents which CAIR has been involved in before.
The Miami-Dade Local 10 reported in 2015 that “The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida filed a lawsuit Thursday, challenging a policy they claim denies religious meals to Muslim inmates at Miami-Dade County jails.”
The lawsuit apparently was filed when “Muslim inmates were provided kosher meals, which the inmates were OK with, until October 2014, when the county pulled the option,” although “inmates of other religions are still provided kosher meals if requested.”
ACLU and CAIR’s joint lawsuit “claims authorities with the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department have refused to serve Halal meals to four Muslim inmates, while providing faith-based meals to inmates of other religions.”
Miami Dade’s local news also reported, “Just because individuals are being detained in jail doesn’t mean that the county can unilaterally strip them of their First Amendment right to practice their faith,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida.
“Where the county offers faith-based meals to inmates of other faiths, it should not deny these meals to Muslim inmates just by professing ignorance of Islam-especially when the inmates themselves and Muslim organizations have made clear the requirements of their faith,” she added.
The 2015 lawsuit defined a Halal diet, saying it, “prohibits the consumption of meat from certain animals or their derivatives, such as pork. Animals that are eaten are to be slaughtered in a particular manner, and the diet prohibits the consumption of alcohol or food containing alcohol. Under Islamic principles, Halal food is not to come into contact with non-Halal foods.”
Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director at CAIR Florida, said. “The county’s excuses for their unlawful discrimination and refusal to provide a proper religious diet to the Muslim inmates are completely without merit. You shouldn’t have to choose between starving yourself and practicing your religion.”