Muslim Inmate Ordered to Handle Pork May Sue Prison Staff

July 25, 2006

Source: The Associated Press

On July 25, 2006 The Associated Press reported, "Prison staff who punished a Muslim inmate for refusing to handle pork do not have immunity from his religious-freedom suit, a federal appeals court ruled.

Henry Williams sued on First Amendment grounds, 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 the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued Tuesday.

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 has not previously judged 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' his religious concerns, U.S. Circuit Court Julio M. Fuentes wrote.

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."