CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES OF INCARCERATED MUSLIMS IN STATE PRISONS IN THE UNITED STATES
Written by Sabah Azam*
Anti-Muslim rhetoric and Islamophobia, exacerbated as a result of the expansion of policing and government surveillance of Muslim communities in the war on terror to challenge radicalization following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have imposed restrictions on the religious freedom of incarcerated Muslims. Legitimate governmental interests, including national security interests, have justified an increase in judicial deference towards prison officials while limiting the religious freedoms of incarcerated Muslims. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) was enacted by Congress in 2000 to protect state prisoners’ religious freedoms and holds religious practices to a strict scrutiny standard of review to determine whether prison regulations substantially burden an inmate’s religious exercise. Despite RLUIPA’s objective to protect state prisoners’ religious practices, incarcerated Muslims face challenges on religious exercise as courts provide substantial deference to prison officials and their interests, including security, rehabilitation, institutional order, and discipline. As a result, Muslim inmates face limitations to their religious freedom.
The purpose of this article is to explore the constitutional rights of religious observances of incarcerated Muslims in state prisons and discuss the ways Muslim inmates are denied religious rights. The goal is to provide insight into the religious practices of Muslims and the challenges in regard to prayer and dietary needs. Contrary to widespread discussion of religious freedoms in prison, this article addresses the legal rights and religious needs of incarcerated Muslims and how prison regulations deprive them of their right to worship.