Policy Harming Muslim Inmates Kept Intact

     WASHINGTON (CN) - A Texas prison policy found to discriminate against Muslim inmates will remain in effect pending the state's appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court said.
     The order issued late Wednesday comes in the 1969 class action that an inmate named Bobby Brown brought over the treatment of Muslim inmates in Texas.
     Brown's challenge led to a 1977 consent decree that requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or TDCJ to treat Muslim inmates the same as it treats adherents of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths.
     Among other things, the consent decree required Texas to include copies of the Quran in prison libraries, hire five Muslim chaplains, provide pork-free diets, and let adherents possess Islamic literature and keepsakes.
     After the TDCJ moved to terminate the consent decree in August 2012, automatically staying several of its provisions, the department implemented a new policy against inmate gatherings in groups of more than four for religious services unless a guard, chaplain or outside volunteer is present.
     The change effectively reduced religious services for Muslim inmates to one hour a week based on the availability, or lack thereof, of Muslim chaplains and volunteers.
     Inmates belonging to other faiths meanwhile continued to enjoy the weekly average of six hours of religious activities because they had more volunteers and chaplains available.
     Finding that the new policy effectively prohibited Muslim inmates from practicing this tenant of their faith, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt refused on April 30 to terminate the consent decree.
     The ruling reinstated three provisions of the consent decree and enjoined application of the new policies to Muslim and Jehovah's Witness inmates.
     Though Hoyt refused to stay his decision pending the state's appeal, the 5th Circuit granted such a stay on May 27.
     The U.S. Supreme Court declined late Wednesday to vacate that stay.