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ACLU, CAIR lawsuit claims Miami-Dade jails deny religious meals to Muslims

Complaint alleges that other non-Muslim inmates receive faith-based meals

MIAMI – 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, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, 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.

"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."

According to the complaint, Muslim inmates were provided kosher meals, which the inmates were OK with, until October 2014, when the county pulled the option for them.

However, the complaint said inmates of other religions are still provided kosher meals if requested.

A Halal diet, among other things, 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 principals, Halal food is not to come into contact with non-Halal foods.

"The law is clear. The right to practice your religion without government interference is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," said Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director at CAIR Florida. "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."

Click here to view the full complaint.

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About the Author:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.