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Litigators Jess Askew and Fred Davis Prevail in Arkansas Religious Exercise Case

News | April 4, 2018


Kutak Rock lawyers Jess Askew and Fred Davis of the Little Rock office have prevailed on claims of religious exercise under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act after a federal trial on behalf of a Sunni Muslim inmate serving a life sentence in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas appointed Askew and Davis to represent Abdulhakim Muhammad on his claims for a halal diet.

The Court found the Department’s meal-plan policy violated the federal statute and constitution by burdening Mr. Muhammad’s sincere religious belief that he keep a halal diet and consume halal meat daily. The Court found that the Department failed to show its policy was related to legitimate prison concerns. The Department had previously been ordered to accommodate inmates who requested a kosher diet, and the Department admitted it could easily accommodate the request for halal meat, which, according to Department records introduced at trial, may be less expensive than the non-halal meat options regularly served.

The Court also rejected the Department’s defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies because the Department failed to follow its administrative procedure and the grievance procedure was a dead-end that could not provide relief.

The Court’s order can be accessed here: Abdulhakim Muhammad v. Mark Wheeler, et al., No. 5:15-cv-130, 2018 WL 1558279 (E.D. Ark. March 30, 2018).