The Department of Justice today announced that it has reached an agreement with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to resolve its investigation of MDOC, pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
The investigation and agreement addressed MDOC’s policy of a five-person minimum for group worship and religious activities, its policy of prohibiting group religious practice for certain religious groups, including Hindu, Yoruba, Hebrew Israelite and Thelema practitioners, and its restrictions limiting access to the kosher-for-Passover diet to those on the kosher diet year-round. These policies and procedures will be changed pursuant to the agreement reached today.
“The religious rights of all people, including those detained inside our nation’s jails and prisons, must be protected,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement will protect the religious practices of incarcerated persons across Michigan The Justice Department remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that the religious rights of prisoners are respected.”
“Federal law guarantees the right to freely exercise your religion to all Americans,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Shafiq Mohsin for the Eastern District of Michigan. “We are pleased that this agreement makes it easier for prisoners in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections to exercise this fundamental right.”
“My office is dedicated to protecting the fundamental right to exercise one’s religion, which includes the rights of institutionalized persons to practice their faiths and worship together,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Byerly Birge for the Western District of Michigan. “This agreement is an example of my office’s commitment to protecting religious freedom for all, and we are grateful for the MDOC’s willingness to work with us and implement new policies to ensure better protection for these rights.”
As part of the agreement, MDOC will make changes to its policies and practices. The new policies and practices will (1) remove the five-person minimum for religious services and activities; (2) remove the prohibition on group religious practice for Hindu, Yoruba, Hebrew Israelite and Thelema practitioners; and (3) remove the requirement that incarcerated persons must be on the kosher diet year-round to receive the kosher-for-Passover meal. MDOC will also provide training to staff and chaplains involved in implementing the revised policy. The Department of Justice will have access to documents and correctional facilities to assess compliance with the agreement.
For additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the Special Litigation Section, please visit www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section. Those interested in finding out more about RLUIPA may visit https://www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act-0. The Department of Justice issued a report on the 20th Anniversary of RLUIPA in 2020 (https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1319031/download) and a statement on the Institutionalized Persons Provisions of RLUIPA in 2017 (https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/974661/download).