Discrimination Between Muslim Prisoners’ Kufis and Jewish Prisoners’ Yarmulkes Is Unconstitutional

Start at Washington v. MooreJudge George Caram Steeh, E.D. Mich.):

Plaintiff John Patrick Moore, II is in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”)…. Moore is a Sunni Muslim practicing devoutly and claims violations to his religious rights because MDOC policies restrict his right to wear his kufi inside the prison. {The MDOC changed their policy in February 2021 and now permits male Muslims to always wear a kufi.} …

Judge of the Magistrates Court found that there was ample legal precedent that would have warned officials that banning Muslim prisoners wearing kufi would be a violation of their Constitutional rights. To reach this conclusion the court reviewed Sixth Circuit caselaw. It found that the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment bans prison regulations which violate prisoners’ honest beliefs without any penological justification.

MDOC must have established a “valid and rational connection” with a “legitimate interest government,” and the “goal of the government must be legitimate and objective.” Turner v. Safley(1987) (citations and quotations omitted). The current MDOC special activities coordinator, Adrian Dirschell was called to testify by defendants. He said that while he didn’t believe Islamic law requires followers to wear a Kufi every day, that they were very similar, that you “can’t tell which one” and that the security concerns between them weren’t distinct. Sixth Circuit ruled that the true religious beliefs of an individual determine the requirements for a religion. Not what MDOC believes is necessary.

MDOC Deputy Director of Correctional Facilities Administration Jeremy Bush stated that when a prisoner layers on clothing, they have the potential to conceal contraband. Bush’s testimony that he knew little about Kufis, and MDOC’s rationale for making them restricted in their use was dismissed by the magistrate. Campbell, who was the ARF warden denied that discussion about kufi wear limitations were meant to hide contraband. Further testimony was provided by MDOC officers that the kufis are very similar to yarmulkes and there is no security difference between them. Moore’s deeply held religious beliefs have been ignored by defendants.

In the next argument, defendants claim that there was no law that established that prison inmates had a legal right to wear a kufi. It is now time to examine whether the defendants have a valid penological reason for limiting Moore’s ability to wear a Kufi. As discussed above, defendant’s penological reason proffered for treating Muslims’ and Jews’ headgear differently is not sufficiently supported for the Court to conclude that defendants did not violate Moore’s constitutional rights….

[As to the Equal Protection Clause, o]Again, the defendants depend on their Islamic law knowledge and their rational penological justification to justify a different treatment of headgear from Jews or Muslims. Courts “treat as presumptively vidious” any classification that is detrimental to a suspect group’ or impinges upon the exercise a fundamental right. The policy at issue made a facially discriminatory distinction between Jewish men, who could wear their religious head coverings at all time, and Muslim men, who could wear a kufi only in their cells or around religious activities….