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January 28, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, District Judge.


In this § 1983 action, plaintiff Elijah Muhammad, a pro se prisoner, seeks damages and injunctive relief from defendants Richard Klotz, director, Edward Sweeney, warden, and Samuel Claudio, chaplain, of the Lehigh County Prison. Plaintiff claims that defendants' actions during Ramadan which began February 1, 1995 and concluded March 3, 1995 while plaintiff was being detained at Lehigh County Prison, violated his right to free exercise under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The defendants move for summary judgment. Their motion will be granted.

I. Facts*fn1

Lehigh County Prison is a maximum security facility. (Sweeney aff. ¶ 15). As a county facility, it holds both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies to capital homicide. In addition to these state criminal offenders, it holds federal inmates, those detained by the INS, and civil contempt offenders. Its multiple housing units are segregated according to the severity of the crime and the security risk presented by the inmate. (Sweeney aff. ¶ 16).

While incarcerated, inmates can engage in group activities. Each day, the six activity areas are for more than twelve hours apiece. (Sweeney aff. ¶¶ 9-11, Defs. exh. A, at Sweeney 8). Supervision of the inmates during these group activities presents security concerns. (Sweeney aff. ¶ 13). Due to the large number of activities, prison staff cannot supervise each one. (Sweeney aff. ¶ 12). To enable more activities, Lehigh County Prison adopted a policy of using approved outside community volunteers to supervise group activities. (Sweeney aff. ¶ 13). In addition, a March 21, 1995 memo further clarified the procedure for those activities that do not require the presence of either prison staff or an outside volunteer.*fn2 (Pl. response to defs. motion for summary judgment, exh. 1).

On December 28, 1994, the Islamic Community of Lehigh County Prison, of which Muhammad was a member, sent a memo to Warden Sweeney. (Complaint, opening ¶). The group sought accommodations for the religious needs of Muslims incarcerated at Lehigh County Prison during Ramadan. It listed the seven necessary requirements to proper Ramadan observance. (Pl. statement to show cause, exh. 1). The requirements focus on congregational worship and fasting.*fn3

On January 25, 1995, Warden Sweeney distributed a memo to prison personnel regarding the observance of Ramadan. (Defs. exh. A, at Sweeney 1). According to the memo, Lehigh County Prison would provide the Muslim inmates with a predawn meal in their cells and an evening meal after sunset in the day room. In addition, all daily Ramadan prayers and rituals were to be conducted by the inmates alone in their cells, though the regular, weekly Talim and Jumah services would continue as a group activity. The memo established prerequisites for inmate attendance at Eidul al Fitra. Finally, a list of the inmates observing Ramadan was to be maintained by Chaplain Claudio.

On January 26, 1995, Chaplain Claudio issued a memo on Ramadan observance to the inmate population. (Pl. statement to show cause, exh. 2). It required that any inmate seeking to participate in Ramadan observance submit a request to him. His list allowed participating inmates to comply with the fasting requirement by removing them from the regular meal schedule. (id.). The number of inmates participating in Ramadan ranged from sixteen to twenty-seven. (Defs. exh. A, at Sweeney 3, Sweeney 4, Sweeney 5). These participants came from ten different housing units in the prison. (id.). On January 31, 1995, the Islamic Community of Lehigh County Prison sent a memo to Chaplain Claudio indicating that his memo was insufficient because it only provided for fasting and neglected the more important congregational worship. (Pl. statement to show cause, exh. 3).

Throughout this period, Muhammad talked with both Warden Sweeney and Chaplain Claudio regarding what he considered to be the insufficient opportunity provided Islamic inmates to observe Ramadan. (Complaint, ¶¶ 2, 4, 8, 10). In addition, Kamal M. El-Shaarawy, the Outside Volunteer Coordinator for the Islamic Community at Lehigh County Prison, spoke with both Warden Sweeney and Chaplain Claudio about Ramadan.(Complaint, ¶ 7, Sweeney aff. ¶ 7).

In early February, Mr. El-Shaarawy and Warden Sweeney discussed the issue of congregational evening prayer. According to Warden Sweeney, on February 7, 1995 he told Mr. El-Shaarawy that congregational evening prayer would only be allowed if an approved volunteer attended because the sole program areas available were those where inmates were not permitted to congregate without staff or volunteer supervision. (Defs. exh. A, at Sweeney 6).

On February 10, 1995, Mr. El-Shaarawy informed Warden Sweeney that he might be able to locate a volunteer to attend congregational evening prayer. Later that day, Assistant Warden Dale Meisel issued a memo regarding those services. (Defs. exh. A, at Sweeney 6). A room for congregational prayer would be provided from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m. daily. Under this arrangement, however, the service would only be held if an outside volunteer was present. Volunteers had been approved by the prison authorities for this purpose. (Sweeney aff. ¶¶ 7 G, I).

In addition to Mr. El-Shaarawy, Dr. Mohamed Eid, Chairman of the Muslim Association of Lehigh Valley, was involved in the effort to resolve the issue of congregational evening prayer. On February 21, 1995, he sent a letter to Warden Sweeney on Ramadan observance. (Pl. statement to show cause, exh. 4). Warden Sweeney's response reiterated his position on the need for an outside volunteer at the group prayer. (Defs. exh. A, at Sweeney 6).

Ramadan observance followed the procedures outlined in Warden Sweeney's January 25, 1995 memo, concluding with Eidul al Fitra on March 3, 1995. (Sweeney aff. ΒΆ 7, pl. dep. at 17, 18, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29). Precisely two years later, Muhammad ...

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