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Jones v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 8, 2017



          William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

         A consolidated preliminary injunction hearing and trial on the merits was held on July 11, 2017. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1), the Court now issues its findings of fact and conclusions of law.


         On October 24, 2016, Plaintiff Roman Lee Jones filed suit alleging that the Defendant Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq. (“RLUIPA”). Specifically, Jones alleged that the Defendant's refusal to allow Jones to receive a Halal diet that includes meat imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of his religion in violation of RLUIPA.


         A. Background

         Roman Lee Jones is a prisoner at the Indiana State Prison (“ISP”). Jones is Muslim, and the Indiana Department of Correction (“DOC”) recognizes him as such. Jones attempts to comply with the requirements of Islam, one of which is to adhere to the religiously mandated dietary obligations referred to generally as halal (which means “lawful” or “permissible”).[1] The standard DOC diet contains meat that is not halal, and the only alternative available religious diet that the DOC provides at ISP is a vegetarian diet designed to meet kosher requirements. Jones, however, believes that Islam prohibits rejecting food that Allah has given to humans-including certain types of animal meat. Accordingly, Jones avers that forcing him to adhere to a vegetarian diet violates his sincere religious beliefs.

         B. DOC Provision of Religious Meals

         The regular DOC diet is not halal because the meat served is not halal. For a short period of time a number of years ago, the DOC provided pre-packaged halal meals, some of which contained meat, to Muslim prisoners who requested them. Before these halal meals were provided, the DOC provided pre-packaged kosher meals to Muslim prisoners-including Jones-who were authorized to receive them. Jones would have preferred a halal diet but believed that it was acceptable to eat a kosher meal, as it was food of Jews, who are considered by Muslims to be “people of the Book.” At some point, both kosher and halal meals were discontinued by the DOC. Following a December 2010 court order, the DOC began providing prepackaged lunches and dinners that were designated as kosher to all prisoners who requested them in writing due to sincerely held religious beliefs. The meals often contained kosher meat. No separate halal option was provided. Jones reapplied for, and received, a kosher diet.

         The DOC then set up separate kosher kitchens in five facilities, including ISP, where Jones currently is housed.[2] All meals served from these kosher kitchens are vegan and as such do not include any meat. Unless other circumstances prevent them from being housed at one of those prisons, all prisoners who request a kosher diet are moved to one of the prisons with a kosher kitchen. Prisoners who request a kosher diet but who cannot be moved to one of the five facilities receive pre-packaged meals that contain fish or kosher meat (“kosher trays”).

         As of February 27, 2017, there were 186 prisoners receiving kosher meals in the DOC, out of more than 32, 000 prisoners, and sixteen of the prisoners receiving kosher diets continued to receive the kosher trays because those prisoners are not located in an institution with kosher kitchens. Ten of the fourteen kosher trays served each week contain either meat or fish.

         C. Jones's Religious Beliefs

         Jones believes that his Muslim faith requires that he maintain a halal diet. To Jones, a halal diet must not only avoid foods that are prohibited, but must also be meat based. The frequency with which Jones must eat meat is not specified by the Qur'an, but meat must be a regular part of his diet. As such, a vegetarian diet such as the one served from the kosher kitchen is haram to Jones. Jones acknowledges that not all Muslims share his belief that they must eat a diet that does not exclude meat. Although Jones would prefer to have halal meals, in the absence of halal meals, his religious beliefs allow him to eat kosher meals that include kosher meat. See Dkt. No. 38-1 at 23, 42-43.

         III. CONC ...

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