Judge OKs deal on halal meals in prisons

 Cohn calls settlement ‘fair and reasonable’


By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Muslims in Michigan prisons will be guaranteed meals that meet strict Islamic rules under a settlement a federal judge approved Monday.

The agreement ends years of litigation over the preparation of meals that are considered halal, or legal, under the Islamic faith. Earlier in the case, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn also ordered the state to ensure that Muslim prisoners can celebrate important festivals and attend services that could conflict with work or education classes.

“Inmates do not lose their religious freedom rights simply because they’re behind bars. The case was a tremendous success,” said Michael Steinberg of the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU handled the case along with attorney Daniel Quick.

A halal meal is prepared under Islamic rules governing the slaughter of animals. Pork is prohibited. Inmates sued in 2006, saying the Corrections Department violated their right to practice their religion.

Cohn approved the settlement, calling it “fair and reasonable,” despite objections from some prisoners who say they prefer meat. The state has decided to serve a vegetarian meal for all inmates who request a meal that adheres to their religion, no matter their faith.

“Most of the soy being served at my facility is disgusting,” wrote Bilal Chaaban, 31, who is serving a life sentence at a prison in the Upper Peninsula.

But the deal to end the lawsuit only covers preparation of the food, not what’s in it. Anyone seeking to challenge what’s served will have to take it up with the prison or file a lawsuit, Quick said.

A private company, Aramark, is taking over prison food operations in December. Michigan had more than 1,800 Muslim inmates in 2010, less than 10 percent of the prison population, according to a court filing.