Ohio Muslim inmates settle meal preparation suit

Jan 19, 2012, 6:55 PM

AP Legal Affairs Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A Muslim death row inmate has settled a lawsuit that accused the Ohio prison system of denying him meals prepared according to Islamic law while providing kosher meals to Jewish prisoners.

Ohio had previously decided to remove all pork products from prison menus in response to the lawsuit, though inmates weren’t seeking a ban on pork.

Details of the settlement announced Wednesday weren’t released. The inmate’s lawyer would not comment. JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said no policy changes have been made regarding food preparation.

Both sides anticipated making the settlement final in about 45 days, according to an order dismissing the lawsuit by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson.

State prison officials said they have not made any policy changes

The state argued as recently as last month that providing the meals, known as halal, could bankrupt the state’s food service system because thousands of inmates have declared themselves Muslim.

Death row inmate Abdul Awkal argued in his lawsuit that the prison system’s failure to provide halal meals was a restraint on his religious freedoms.

Awkal, joined by a second Muslim inmate not on death row, said the vegetarian and non-pork options offered by the prison system weren’t good enough. The inmates said food must be prepared in a specific fashion to conform to Islamic beliefs, such as butchering an animal by slitting its throat and draining its blood.

Awkal, 52, is scheduled to die in June for the slayings of his estranged wife, Latife Awkal, and brother-in-law Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz in 1992, in a courthouse room in Cuyahoga County where the Awkals were taking up divorce and custody issues.

Joining Awkal in the lawsuit was Cornelius Causey, 35, serving 15 years to life for murder and aggravated robbery convictions out of Hamilton County.

Ohio argued that it provides both non-pork and vegetarian meals to Muslims and says the courts have sided with this practice. The state also says that providing halal meals could hurt Ohio financially, given the current budget situation.

“Once one Muslim’s request for a Halal diet is granted (or ordered to be granted), all other declared Muslims will want the same accommodation,” Assistant Attorney General Ryan Dolan argued in a Dec. 16 court filing.

About 200 inmates identify themselves as Jewish out of a system of about 50,000 inmates, according to the state. By contrast, Ohio prisons have nearly 2,500 Muslim inmates, the state says. “Additionally, it is fair to assume that many inmates would convert to Islam if they receive what is perceived to be a better diet,” the state said.

The inmates argued they have only two inadequate options: vegetarian meals or meals with non-pork meat that violates their religious beliefs.

“Jewish inmates, who have similar dietary needs, are not forced to make such a choice,” the Muslim prisoners argued.

___

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at
http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Ohio Muslim inmates settle meal preparation suit