Two Muslim inmates have settled a lawsuit that accused the Ohio prison system of denying them meals prepared according to Islamic law while providing kosher meals to Jewish prisoners. However, Ohio is not going to start offering Halal meals.
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 were not released. JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said no policy changes have been made regarding food preparation.
The state argue 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 Cornelius Causey, 35, serving 15 years to life -- said the vegetarian and non-pork options offered by the prison system weren't good enough. The inmates said a non-pork meat option 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.
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 16 December 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.
Attorneys for the two inmates argued that the state was exaggerating the cost.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins, "Ohio Muslim Inmates Settle Meal Preparation Suit" ABC News January 19, 2012
Billy Hallowell, "Muslim Death Row Inmate Settles Suit Over Lack of Halal Food in Prison" The Blaze January 19, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today