African Hebrew Israelite inmate claims religious freedom being violated

By Steve Gonzalez | Nov 27, 2006

An inmate serving a 25-year sentence for home invasion at Lawrence Correctional Center filed suit in federal court claiming the prison violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and his right to practice religion.

BenYeHudah Whitfield, an African Hebrew Israelite, claims the prison refused to accommodate his religious requests and institute services and programs central to his religion.

Whitfield is seeking a court order preventing the prison from violating his religious freedom and also is seeking $1 million in punitive damages.

According to Whitfield, the accommodations and services and programs at issue are:

  • Religious services pursuant to religious holidays;
  • Being provided with evening meals after observing the Sabbath;
  • Being provided a diet with equal or adequate nutritional value as the diet provided to the inmates in the general population; and
  • Being provided with meals that are less appetizing than those given to inmates of other religions.

    He claims inmates of other faith groups and African Hebrew Israelites in other prisons are given a better variety of nutritional and dietary products because of class differentiation.

    Whitfield also claims he has not been provided with a Torah and other religious information that is critical to proper observation of his religion.

    He further claims that he was required to get a health immunization while observing the Sabbath.

    The case has been assigned to Chief District Judge Patrick Murphy.

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