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BOSTON �— A Massachusetts U.S. District Court Judge recently ordered the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to make dietary and prayer service accommodations to two Muslim inmates. On March 5, Judge Richard G. Stearns ruled after a bench trial that the corrections department must prepare meals for the prisoners that meet to Islamic dietary requirements. Stearns also said the prisoners must have access to weekly prayers services via closed-circuit television even while they’re confined in segregated area for disciplinary reasons or protective custody. Hudson v. Dennehy, No. 1:01-cv-12145 (D. Mass.) “The [department's] refusal to provide a daily Halal menu to Muslim inmates substantially burdens plaintiffs’ exercise of their religious beliefs by creating pressure on plaintiffs to consume meals that do not conform with their understanding of the requirements of Islamic law,” Stearns wrote. Corrections department spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said the department wouldn’t comment because the final judgment hasn’t been entered. Stearns’ order gave plaintiffs 10 days to file a proposed form of final judgment, and defendants seven days to comment on the plaintiffs’ filing. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Michael Kendall, a litigator in McDermott Will & Emery’s Boston office, said he doesn’t anticipate major changes to the judge’s order, particularly since it stemmed from a bench trial rather than a jury trial. The plaintiffs initially filed their cases pro se in 2001, but the court appointed McDermott Will as pro bono counsel in 2004. In the amended complaint after McDermott Will took the case, the plaintiffs claimed the corrections department violated the free exercise clause of the 1st and 14th amendments to the constitution and the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment because department policies accommodate the dietary requirements of Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist and Buddist prisoners. Plaintiffs also claimed the department’s actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000, the state Civil Rights Act and the Massachusetts Inmate Right of Worship statute. Kendall also said there were multiple ways for the system to accommodate the prisoners’ meal and prayer requests, but that officials were obstinate. Kendall also said the case is notable because it’s one of a few cases that have gone to trial since RLUIPA took effect. “Prisoner cases are very tough to win,” Kendall said. “Sometimes the facts haven’t been developed from the beginning and sometimes clients don’t know how to present their claim. This case was won on the strength and sincerity of the prisoners who were bringing it.”

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