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Civil Rights – Prison Inmate – Arabic Prayers

A Norfolk U.S. District Court dismisses a Virginia inmate’s pro se action seeking $1.5 million and injunctive relief based on his claim that Muslim inmates at Northern Neck Regional Jail are not allowed to pray in Arabic during Jumuah prayer services on Fridays.

NNRJ does not have any officers that speak Arabic and NNRJ has been unable to find a volunteer to conduct Jumuah prayer services. The policy requiring Jumuah prayers to be in English stems from the concern that inmates could plot riots, escapes or espouse extremism, and officers would be unable to understand what was being said. The policy only applies when inmate from different housing units and of different security levels are together. In their housing units, inmates may gather to worship and pray in Arabic.

The policy is narrowly tailored to alleviate the worst security concerns, while still allowing inmates to pray in Arabic when they are in their own housing unit. Plaitniff’s free exercise of his First Amendment rights has not been substantially burdened. Also, requiring inmates to sign up to attend services is reasonable because security, staffing and location decisions must be made based on the number and identity of those signing up.

Summary judgment for defendant correctional officials.

McCoy v. Frazier, Sup’t (Davis, J.) No. 2:09cv412, July 6, 2010; USDC at Norfolk, Va. VLW 010-3-391, 10 pp.

VLW 010-3-391

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