Court says inmate can sue Florida for violating his religious rights over prison meals during Ramadan

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Prison bars illustration by Rawf8 via iStock for WMNF News.

A federal appeals court Friday cleared the way for a Florida prison inmate to pursue part of a lawsuit alleging violation of his rights during Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting and prayer for Muslims.

Inmate Akeem Muhammad said in the lawsuit that during Ramadan he needed to eat a meal before “astronomical twilight,” which is before sunrise, and fast until eating again after sunset, according to the ruling by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Muhammad filed the lawsuit in 2018 while an inmate at Florida State Prison, where he said officials did not provide meals before astronomical twilight.

Muhammad said that also affected his ability to take needed medications.

Muhammad alleged violations of a law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and sought damages from corrections officials based on alleged violations of First Amendment rights.

A district judge granted summary judgment to the defendants, but the appellate panel Friday overturned part of that decision and said Muhammad could pursue the claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.

“When construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Muhammad, there is more than enough for his RLUIPA claim to survive summary judgment,” the ruling by Judges Robin Rosenbaum, Jill Pryor and Susan Black said. “No one disputes the sincerity of Muhammad’s religious belief that he must begin his Ramadan fast at astronomical twilight. Moreover, Muhammad stated in a sworn affidavit that he was woken up for his morning meals and medication during Ramadan between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., which was after astronomical twilight, and this forced him to forgo his medication and eat only the dinner meal.”

Information on the Florida Department of Corrections website indicated Muhammad, 50, is now a prisoner at Suwannee Correctional Institution and was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 in Broward County.

©2023 The News Service of Florida

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