First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
Muslim inmate ordered to handle pork can sue staff

By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Prison staff who punished a Muslim inmate for refusing to handle pork do not have immunity from his religious-freedom lawsuit, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Henry Williams sued under the First Amendment and a federal religious-freedom law, saying he lost his cook's job and was restricted to his cell for 30 days after refusing to handle roast pork.

Williams missed religious and other events during his confinement, and ended up with a lower-paying janitorial job, according to yesterday's 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Williams v. Bitner.

Senior inmate-cooks at SCI-Rockview, in Centre County, had agreed to honor Williams' concerns by giving him other duties when pork was served.

But staff members on March 6, 2001, ordered him to handle the meat, saying he could use gloves as other Muslim inmates did. Williams refused, and was disciplined. His appeals within the prison system failed.

Although the 3rd Circuit had not previously considered such a case, the defendants had "fair warning" from other circuits — and more generally from the U.S. Supreme Court — that they should "respect, and accommodate when practicable" Williams' religious concerns, 3rd Circuit Judge Julio M. Fuentes wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

The ruling upholds a lower court decision that also denied the staff qualified immunity. The case now goes back to the lower court for further proceedings.

Williams is seeking back pay, a clean conduct record, an end to religious-based harassment and unspecified damages. His claims are based on the First Amendment's religious-freedom clause and RLUIPA, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.


Muslim inmates claim they were forced to eat forbidden food

California county prisoners say jail's policies prevented them from practicing their faith. 08.19.02

No specially prepared meat for Islamic inmates, 3rd Circuit says
Three-judge panel finds that providing vegetarian meals instead is a reasonable accommodation of prisoners' religious beliefs. 09.12.03

State hasn't justified denying feast-day meats for Muslim inmate
Massachusetts high court says state constitution goes further than U.S. Constitution to protect religious freedom of prisoners. 04.11.06

Prisoners' rights
RLUIPA, religious buildings & zoning

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print

Last system update: Saturday, January 24, 2009 | 23:31:16
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links