A prison in Alaska stands accused of knowingly serving pork to its Muslim inmates during Ramadan. Inmates are supposedly entitled by law to three meals a day, including two hot meals. However, the Anchorage Correctional Complex reportedly provided their Muslim inmates with just one cold meal ranging from 500 to 1,000 calories in total – far below a healthy amount.
To make matters worse, many of these cold meals included pork products such as bologna. Since the Koran explicitly declares pork haram (forbidden) for all Muslims, the prisoners, already undernourished as a result of ritual fasting for the Islamic holy month, were reduced to as little as 500 calories a day – essentially a starvation diet.
A Month of Fasting
Muslims are required to fast between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, which began May 15 in the United States. For those living in the Southern Hemisphere where the days are short this time of year, Ramadan means going roughly 12 hours without food each day – a fairly reasonable task. But the farther north a Muslim person resides, the longer the fast. In some parts the far north, such as Alaska, fasting times can reach 18-20 hours a day. Such an experience must be excruciating.
Imagine getting all the way through a 20 hour fast, only to be presented with a wilted bologna sandwich at the end of the day. You could make the argument that that alone constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
But now imagine you’re even forbidden from touching the widely-despised lunch meat, so you’re instead reduced to picking at the soggy white bread around it, and perhaps nibbling at the cheese a bit. Ouch.
Taking It to Court
Upon learning of the situation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) quickly filed a lawsuit against the prison, alleging that guards intentionally fed observant Muslim inmates pork products as punishment and violated their constitutional rights. The lawsuit insists such treatment is a clear example of cruel and unusual punishment.
“The Constitution and Congress forbid prisons from compelling inmates to choose between their faith and food,” CAIR’s National Litigation Director Lena Masri said in a statement. “We hope that a court will do what Anchorage Correctional Complex officials will not: ensure that Muslim inmates are not starved or forced to violate the principles of their faith during the holy month of Ramadan.”
The suit is seeking a more “balanced nutritional diet” as well as unspecified monetary damages. A separate emergency motion was also filed requiring the court to provide Muslim prisoners “adequate nutrition, free of pork products” effective immediately.
The case is now in court, with a final verdict pending. However, in the meantime, a federal judge granted the inmates some reprieve by slapping the guards with restraining orders and forcing them to provide pork-free meal options to the Muslim prisoners.