(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/13/15) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today announced that it has filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is considering whether the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ) policy requiring direct supervision by a chaplain or outside volunteer of inmates who gather in groups for religious services is unconstitutional.
The case, Brown v. Livingston, arises out of the unilateral suspension by the TDCJ of a 1977 consent decree that prohibited the department from discriminating against Muslim inmates in the practice of their religion.
The district court in this case held that the TDCJ policy violated the Muslim inmates' federal constitutional rights, and one of the ways to correct the violation was to keep the 1977 consent decree in effect.
“The Texas prison system's new policy prohibiting inmate-supervised religious gatherings violates the Establishment Clause, which requires government neutrality among religions,” said CAIR Civil Rights Litigation Director Jenifer Wicks. “It unconstitutionally favors the practice of the majority religion, Christianity, for which chaplains and outside volunteers are readily available, and disfavors that of minority religions, including Islam.”
CAIR's brief states in part:
“The direct supervision policy has the primary effect of advancing Christianity and of disfavoring Islam. First, the volunteer policy is dependent on outside volunteers that are easier to acquire for the majority Protestant population than for minority religions. Acquiring volunteers for Muslim inmates is especially hard given housing assignments to units that are far from Muslim population centers, and the fact that Islam requires all Muslims (including volunteers) to attend Friday mid-day prayer.”. …
“Second, the TDCJ facilitates Christian religious instruction by providing many hours of Protestant programming to all inmates, but infringes on the Muslims' right to do the same by requiring direct supervision when it knows that the Muslim inmates cannot muster an adequate number of volunteers. …
“Thus, the direct supervision policy violates the Establishment Clause because it has the primary effect of advancing majority religions, such as Christianity, and disfavoring certain disfavored minority religions, such as Islam.”
Late last year, CAIR filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's refusal to hire a Muslim woman wearing a religious headscarf (hijab) was discriminatory.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR Civil Rights Litigation Director Jenifer Wicks, 202-488-8787, firstname.lastname@example.org; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, email@example.com; CAIR Communications Manager Amina Rubin, 202-341-4171, firstname.lastname@example.org