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Muslim Prisoners Challenge Ohio’s Denial of Halal Meals; Pork Producers Protest

In 2011, Abdul-Hamead Awkal, II, 52, and Cornelius Causey, 35, both Muslim prisoners, filed separate lawsuits against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), arguing that the ODRC’s refusal to provide halal meals infringed on their religious rights.

“The issue of eating halal meals is especially important to me because I face a death sentence,” said Awkal, who is on Ohio’s death row for two murders. “It is important to me that I follow the requirements of my faith as I approach death.”

Meat in halal meals is prepared in part by slitting an animal’s throat and draining its blood in accordance with Islamic beliefs. The ODRC argued that it fulfilled the requirements of a Muslim diet by removing pork from the prison menu and offering vegetarian meals.

But David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which filed the lawsuits on behalf of Causey and Awkal, said the ODRC should provide pre-packaged halal meals to Muslim prisoners – similar to kosher meals for Jewish prisoners – rather than simply eliminating pork, which did not address the issue of providing halal meat.

Ryan Dolan, an Ohio Assistant Attorney General, argued that would require a “complete restructuring of ODRC’s food service administration and preparation, at a cost of millions to the State of Ohio during fiscal crisis,” according to court filings.

“Once one Muslim’s request for a Halal diet is granted (or ordered to be granted), all other declared Muslims will want the same accommodation,” he said.

However, the ODRC’s ban on pork angered local farmers and the pork industry.

“We really think it’s not in the best interest, frankly, of the whole prison system,” stated Dick Isler, executive director of the Ohio Pork Producers Council. Isler described the ODRC’s pork ban as “letting a small group make the rules,” adding that pork is inexpensive and nutritious – not to mention profitable. Pork producers indicated they may file a counter suit against the ODRC for banning pork from prison meals.

Causey and Awkal settled their consolidated lawsuits, which raised claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), in April 2012. Pursuant to the settlement, the ODRC agreed to provide Awkal and Causey with “Kosher meals as a religious diet accommodation in the same manner that qualifying Jewish inmates are provided Kosher meals....” Further, the ODRC agreed to pay $1,000 to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in litigation costs.

The settlement specified that its terms “do not, in any way, create an expectation, right or interest for other Muslim inmates incarcerated by ODRC to receive a similar accommodation.” See: Causey v. Johnson, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:11-cv-00198.

Additional sources: Associated Press,,

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Related legal case

Causey v. Johnson