UPDATE: Here’s the county’s response, via deputy prosecutor Michelle Luna-Green:
“Pierce County is committed to respecting the religious rights of inmates from all faiths, but not at the cost of inmate and staff security. Pierce County followed federal law before the suit was filed and will continue in its commitment to the law and religious freedom. At our request, the court denied class action certification. Pierce County did not pay any damages to plaintiffs Larry Tarrer or Raymond Garland and disputed many of their claims. The County agreed to pay a portion of the attorney fees claimed by the ACLU, which avoids the distraction and expense of prolonged litigation and allows our staff to focus on the work they do for the jail and for the public.”
PREVIOUS POST: Pierce County officials have agreed to make accommodations for jail inmates who practice Islam as part of a legal settlement announced this morning.
Muslims incarcerated in the county lockup now will be provided halal meals, have access to prayer rugs through the jail commissary and be able to congregate in groups of five for prayer and religious study, the ACLU of Washington and the Public Interest Law Group said in a news release.
Larry Tarrer and Raymond Garland, both practicing Muslims, sued the county in U.S. District Court in 2010, claiming their religious freedoms were abridged while they were incarcerated in the jail.
The two claimed jail officials burdened Muslims by:
• Forbidding them from participating in group prayer.
• Refusing to accommodate their dietary restrictions by, among other things, offering no halal meats during meals and failing to provide dates during holy day observances.
• Prohibiting certain religious clothing and other items “integral to Islamic faith and worship.”
The men also complained that incarcerated Christians received preferential treatment, including a separate living unit known informally as the “God pod.”
“Persons of all faiths have a constitutional right to practice their religion. This settlement will help ensure fair treatment for Muslim inmates and for inmates of all faiths,” La Rond Baker, an ACLU attorney, said today.
The county also agreed to pay $200,000 in legal fees and costs, according to the ACLU statement.
Efforts to reach the county for comment were not immediately successful.