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Albuquerque, NM – In advance of Ramadan, the ACLU of New Mexico sent letters to wardens at state prisons and ICE facilities, reminding them of Muslim inmates’ constitutional rights to exercise their sincerely held religious beliefs. This year, Ramadan begins on May 15 and ends with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr on June 14.
In years past, the ACLU has received a significant number of complaints during Ramadan from Muslim inmates who said correctional staff denied them access to communal prayer and halal meals, and would not allow them to take their meals before dawn and after sundown, as their faith requires during the holy month. The ACLU frequently receives similar complaints alleging barriers to practicing their faith throughout the year. Over the last ten months, more than a dozen inmates have written letters voicing concerns.
“Inmates do not surrender their religious liberties upon incarceration. The courts and Congress have made this abundantly clear,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard. “The only time prison officials may interfere with an inmate’s sincere exercise of religious beliefs is if there is a compelling government interest in doing so. Even then, they must find the least restrictive means possible.”
In his letter, Howard reminds wardens that under the law, Muslim inmates are entitled pray, eat halal food, and fast and asks that wardens take every measure to ensure all Muslim inmates who wish to celebrate Ramadan have the ability to do so.
“Religious accommodations are more than rights afforded to inmates by the First Amendment - for some, faith is the sole source of hope in a grim environment where the prospects for a better life are, at times, remote,” said Howard. “We’re hoping that this reminder will be sufficient to ensure all facilities uphold the religious rights of Muslim inmates, but we are prepared to provide assistance to inmates who face barriers.”
The letter is available here.