The Texas prison system is violating the rights of Muslim inmates with rules that make it all but impossible for them to freely practice their religion, a federal judge has ruled. In the ruling made public Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, said there are not enough Muslims in Texas, especially in rural areas, to meet the prison system’s criteria for Muslim inmates to hold services and conduct related activities. (Note: District judges are appointed by the President)
Houston Chronicle By contrast, he said, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice illegally favors Christian inmates because there are ample civilians and chaplains of that faith in the state to conduct services in prisons. “The TDCJ knowingly adopted a policy it knew would impose requirements on Muslim inmates’ religious services that could not be satisfied by volunteers or overcome by Muslim inmates,” Hoyt said.
The ruling is the latest volley in a clash that goes back to a 1969 lawsuit that resulted in the state having to accommodate an array of Muslim religious needs, including serving pork-free meals and permitting inmates to have Islamic literature and memorabilia.
That lawsuit was settled in 1977, but was brought back to life in 2012, when the Texas Attorney General contended that it should be released from the aging settlement, and immediately enacted new regulations regarding how religion is practiced among the approximately 151,000 inmates in the state’s prison system.
Under the new rules regarding the practice of religion, inmates could not meet in groups of four or more without a staff member or civilian supervising them, and could not have more than one hour a week for group religious activities without meeting those same criteria.
Hoyt’s ruling requires the state to return to the 1977 agreement, which allows inmates more than an hour of religious activities and to have services without a prison clergy or civilian religious supervisor present.
Prison officials declined to comment Thursday, but an appeal, which is expected to be filed, would prevent it from having to make any changes, pending a ruling from the higher court.
Ed Mallett, a Houston attorney who represented inmates in the case for decades, said Hoyt’s ruling was a victory for anyone who believes religion helps wrongdoers turn around their lives. (Except in the case of Islam, where the religion turns them INTO criminals)
“I have never found anyone who committed a violent crime while he was praying on his knees,” Mallett said. “I have never found anyone to commit a violent crime while sitting to be instructed in the word of our Lord or standing in praise.” (Guess you missed all the chants of “Allahu Akbar” on those 9/11 planes)
The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of an inmate named Bobby Brown, who is now 72 years old, and has been back in state prison for more than a decade, as he serves a 45-year sentence for a Dallas County theft.
As part of the fight on behalf of Brown and all the prison system’s Muslim inmates, Mallett sought to show that Muslims had lesser access to practicing their religion.
Of the state’s 151,139 inmates, 6,775 expressed a preference for the Muslim religion, according to statistics in the judge’s order. That compares with 88,504 who have expressed a preference for the Protestant faith and 31,432 for the Catholic faith.
The challenge is that in some portions of the state, especially rural areas, there are no known Muslims, let alone one who is willing and able to volunteer to help with services inside the prison system.
Mallett noted that Muslim prisoners need more access to religious leaders and be able to meet in larger groups and more often, in order to practice, strengthen and understand their faith. (And especially to proselytize to non-Muslim prisoners)
The judge stated in his ruling that while some Jewish and Native Americans have been purposely housed together by the prison system so they can further share their faith, no such accommodations are made for Muslims. (The more Muslims together, the greater the risk of violent jihad)
Isa Parada, an imam with the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, said from his conversations with Muslims who have recently been released from prison there is an appreciation for at least having one hour a week to practice their faith. But, he said, the inmates wanted more time as they struggle to rectify themselves.
While it’s unclear how Texas will ultimately handle Muslim inmates, other states have implemented a range of options. In California, there is no limit on the number of prisoners who can gather for religious matters. The state also has a team of religious professionals at each of its 34 prisons.
“We have staff in every prison to accommodate five religious denominations,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “a Catholic priest, a Protestant chaplain, a Jewish rabbi, a Native American healer and a Muslim imam.” There are five imams employed by the Texas prison system’s 111 units.
As for the federal prison system, congregational services are available at least once a week, but details are largely left to the discretion of individual wardens.