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CAIR Wins ‘God Pod’ Lawsuit Declaring Religious Segregation Illegal in Virginia Jail

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 10/20/20) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today welcomed a Virginia federal court’s ruling in Young v. Newton that Virginia’s Riverside Regional Jail’s Christians-only area of the facility — known as a “God Pod” — had “established an official preference for Christianity” in violation of the religious rights of three Muslims on whose behalf CAIR sued.    

According to the court, that official preference had the effect of creating a religiously-segregated area of the jail.   The Chaplain in charge of the God Pod was a private chaplain provided by Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, whose stated purpose is to “reach every inmate in the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ that they may become growing disciples.”  The God Pod was the only religious program offered at Riverside Regional Jail. 

READ THE DECISION:  

https://www.cair.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/GodPodDecision.pdf

As the court explained, “Christianity was preferred at Riverside Regional Jail while the [Life Learning Program] was in effect in violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Virginia Constitution.” The federal court enjoined the jail from maintaining a “God Pod” or otherwise preferring Christianity.    

Additionally, the court will hold a trial to resolve certain factual issues regarding a pattern of failing to accommodate Muslims who observed Ramadan’s fast.   

“We welcome the Virginia federal court’s ruling and hope that it will serve as a reminder to correctional facilities nationwide that are operating God Pods of their own that it is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause to officially endorse Christianity over all other religious faiths,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri. 

“People incarcerated in this country do not lose their right to practice their religion,” said CAIR Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas. “The law prevents the kind of disfavor forced on Muslims at Riverside Regional Jail by this effort to establish religiously-segregated spaces at the jail.”   

“All incarcerated individuals in our country deserve to be treated well, not just those who sign up for a Bible-based program,” said CAIR Trial Attorney Justin Sadowsky.   

BACKGROUNDER:   

SEE: Virginia Jail Ends ‘God Pod’ After Muslim Inmates Sue  

https://apnews.com/article/434af044885847b092b4c44ee022ee6e

In 2018, CAIR filed the lawsuit against the jail for the Life Learning Program. In the Life Learning Program, incarcerated individuals who agreed to a Christian Bible study program get preferential housing and food and a relaxed work program.  The program was created by a Christian organization who sought to maximize the number of incarcerated individuals who converted to Christianity.     

The jail disbanded the “God Pod” in December 2018, within days after this case was brought.    

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.   

La misión de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.   

END   

CONTACT: CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri, 248-390-9784, lmasri@cair.com; CAIR Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas, 720-251-0425, gabbas@cair.com; CAIR Trial Attorney Justin Sadowsky, 646-785-9154, jsadowsky@cair.com 

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