The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska has filed a class action lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Corrections for the denial of religious accommodations for Muslim people detained at Anchorage Correctional Complex.
William Jamal Gary has been in pre-trial custody at ACC on charges of murder since February 2022. Gary is accused of shooting and killing Kaupoe Magalei Jr., 30, inside Al’s Alaskan Inn, a bar on Old Seward Highway in Anchorage on Feb. 27, 2022. There are three charges against him, including first degree murder.
Gary says he is a practicing Muslim and is bringing the class action on behalf of all current and future Muslims detained at ACC.
He says the prison staff have refused him permission to wear his kufi, which is a type of skullcap, and have refused to accommodate his prayer needs, and made anti-Muslim comments towards Gary.
Islamic law does not require followers to wear a kufi at any time, including prayer; it is considered optional.
The ACLU says the actions of the department violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and “has unconstitutionally infringed on equal protection guarantees and religious freedom rights under the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions.
“Throughout his life, he prayed daily on a prayer rug and maintained regular practices in accordance with the Hadith – an Islamic text with instructions on how to live one’s life,” according to the ACLU.
Originally, Gary and other Muslim detainees were permitted to wear a kufi in all parts of the prison. But Anchorage Correctional Center staff has, has, for over a year, required them to have their heads uncovered outside the housing unit, citing security reasons, despite Gary offering to have his kufi searched, according to the claims made in the lawsuit.
The ACLU argues that other facilities allow inmates to wear religious headwear. Gary has refused to attend doctor’s appointments for an injured hand unless he can wear his kufi outside of his housing unit.
Similar lawsuits around the country have led to prison reforms that allow the wearing of religious headwear such as kufis.
Other details surrounding ACC staff’s denial of reasonable accommodations can be found in the complaint.