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Muslim inmate denied rights to prayer by Wisconsin jail

Afrandee Photography
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A Palestinian immigrant and Milwaukee resident is battling a Wisconsin Correctional Facility to make sure people of all religions have the ability to practice their faith.

Muhammad Emad was detained by ICE in 2018 and housed at the Dodge County Detention facility.

Emad is Muslim, and to follow his faith, he needs a clean space to pray five times a day. But because Ahmad had to pray in his cell near a toilet, he could not practice his faith appropriately and requested to pray elsewhere, but the jail repeatedly denied them. Emad was released a little over a year after his detention, but he continues to fight for others to practice their religion freely while in jail.

"Essentially, we were approached by some organizations, some community organizations who were supporting Mohammed during his detention, and were fighting to get him released for detention," says Vanessa del Valla.

She's the lawyer on this case with the MacArthur Justice Center and she explains that Emad was incorrectly tagged as being a terrorist, which was communicated to ICE.

"So we brought a civil rights case against a number of players. We brought them against a number of ICE officers, against a number of correctional officers and the the detention center and also against the medical care provider of the detention center," Valla says. "So there were a lot of claims, and they centered around the fact that Mohammed shouldn't have been in ICE custody to begin with."

Subsequently, Emad was held in the Dodge County Detention Facility. While there, he never received proper medical and mental health care for some of his physical and mental health injuries. In addition, Emad was not allowed to practice his religion as a devout Muslim during his 14-month ordeal.

Valla says Emad suffered extreme psychological distress as a result of not being able to practice his religion—religion is everything to him. Not being able to pray according to his religion affected him spiritually and mentally.

The Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic filed an amicus brief in support of Ahmad's fight against the jail. The supervising attorney for the clinic, John Meiser shares why they got involved in the case.

Students from the Religious Liberty Clinic get a unique opportunity to work with the leading law firms in this area, who have litigated some of the most critical cases on religious freedom. They have all cherished the opportunity for all of those reasons.

"Our interest in Emad's case is beyond helping defend Mr. Emad's religious freedom and his rights. The case itself implicates such fundamental questions about the rights of prisoners, the rights of religious exercise in prison—even beyond Emad's own case. What the court says and what the decision says, could be of tremendous importance to other cases in the future," says Meiser.


Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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