RELIGION
07/20/2015 04:07 pm ET

Muslim Prisoners Say They Are Forced To Compromise Beliefs In Miami-Dade Prisons

Muslim inmates in facilities within the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department say they've been forced to eat food prohibited by their religion since last October. Adhering to a halal diet, the prisoners have frequently been given kosher meals, which the Islamic Services of America explains is not a viable substitution. Experts joined HuffPost Live on Friday to discuss why these prisoners should be permitted to freely uphold their religious beliefs. 

"[Providing halal meals is] mandated again under federal law," said Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida. "Specifically the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ensures religious liberty, free speech, as well as the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause, which says that Muslim inmates must be treated fairly and the same as other inmates when it comes to requests for religious accommodations."

Thania Diaz Clevenger, the civil rights director for CAIR Florida, initially gave the MDCR the benefit of the doubt when responding to inmates complaints, thinking the situation was "just a misunderstanding" and that the MDCR was missing the difference between halal and kosher. However, when she provided resources and spent time educating them on what "Islamic beliefs are in regards to diet," she was ultimately ignored. 

"It was just kind of shocking to us that we were just met with continual hesitation to simply go back to either their old policy or even have halal meals meals instituted, which would actually save the corrections facility some money, as opposed to buying kosher meals," Clevenger said.

It comes down to inalienable rights, said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund, a group working to protect religious liberties. 

"People don't shed their fundamental human rights when they go behind prison bars," Blomberg said. "There are some limits, but the fundamental right to religious liberty should not be one of those."

Watch experts discuss the injustices in Miami-Dade county jails in the video above, and click here to watch the full conversation on the treatment of Muslim prisoners. 

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