What Can You Do If a Prison Won’t Honor Your Religious Beliefs?

What Can You Do If a Prison Won’t Honor Your Religious Beliefs?

The Bill of Rights protects your religious beliefs. These protections apply even when you’re in federal prison. In almost all circumstances, a prison must honor your religious beliefs. And, if they don’t, you have legal ways to challenge them.

Does A Prison Have To Let You Practice Your Religion?

In almost all circumstances, yes. A prison must allow you to practice your religion unless there is a very good reason not to. Your right to freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment.
Any policy that violates your religious freedom must have a “compelling” reason to exist. Usually, this means that a certain rule protects the health and safety of others in prison. But, if prison officials can’t provide a valid reason, they must make accommodations.

You keep your rights to your religious beliefs in prison.
Image courtesy of John-Mark Smith from Pexels.

What Religious Accommodations Does A Prison Have To Make?

Prisons must allow you to practice your religion freely. The only exceptions are in cases of safety and security. Here are some of the accommodations prisons must make for prisoners.

  • Food. In most cases, prison officials must provide you a religious diet. For example, you may require kosher or halal meals. Other religions may demand a vegetarian or vegan diet.
  • Clothing and accessories. Prisons must allow you to wear religious clothing, jewelry, headwear, and other accessories.
  • Grooming. Officials must allow you to observe religious grooming practices. This includes things like keeping long hair or a beard.
  • Services. Prison officals must allow you to attend worship services.
  • Clergy. The prison must give you access to clergy and other religious officials.
  • Books. Officials must allow you to keep your religious texts with you.

What Can’t A Prison Do With Regards To Your Religion?

You are also free from practicing a religion you don’t want to. No prison official can force their beliefs on you. Nobody can make you attend religious activities. Neither can anyone punish you for not attending a service or activity.

Prison officials are not allowed to discriminate based on religion. They cannot give special preference to people who practice a certain religion. They also cannot treat people worse because of their religion.

Image courtesy of Nothing Ahead from Pexels.

What Should You Do If A Prison Won’t Honor Your Religious Beliefs?

Religious freedom is one of the most well-protected rights in the United States. If your rights are violated, you can file a complaint. This complaint will go to the DOJ’s Special Litigation Department. You can file your complaint on their website if you have internet access. You can also send your complaint to the following address:

U.S. Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

You may want more information or legal advice before making a complaint. In that case, contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU helps people protect their civil rights. You can write to them at the address below:

American Civil Liberties Union

125 Broad Street, 18th Floor

New York, NY 10004

You can also call 212-549-2500.

The Takeaway

The Bill of Rights protects your right to practice your religion freely. You keep this right even in federal prison. In most cases, federal prison officials must make accommodations to allow you to practice your religion. They can only deny you these accommodations for “compelling” reasons such as safety or security. If your rights are denied in prison, you can take legal action.

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