ACLU of Alaska files class action lawsuit against Alaska Department of Corrections for religious discrimination

Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alaska, with co-counsel Howard Anderson of Truluck Thomason LLC, has filed a class action lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) for the denial of religious accommodations for Muslim people detained at Anchorage Correctional Center (ACC).   

This lawsuit is filed on behalf of William ‘Jamal’ Gary, a practicing Muslim who has been in pre-trial custody at ACC since Feb. 2022. The lawsuit claims that ACC staff have refused him permission to wear his kufi, have refused to accommodate his prayer needs, and have made repeated anti-Muslim comments towards Gary. Gary is bringing this class action on behalf of all current and future Muslims detained at ACC.   

The lawsuit claims that DOC has violated 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. 

“Mr. Gary’s case is a blatant example of DOC and its staff failing to meet the constitutional rights of incarcerated Alaskans,” said Melody Vidmar, staff attorney for the ACLU of Alaska. “Not only were Mr. Gary’s religious requests reasonable, but they are well within his rights. Incarcerated and detained people do not leave their religion at the jailhouse doors, nor do they leave their constitutional rights behind either.”   

Originally, Gary and other Muslim detainees were permitted to wear a kufi in all parts of the ACC.

But ACC 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.

ACC staff have never searched his kufi.

Other DOC facilities permit inmates to wear religious headwear throughout the facilities, making ACC an outlier within the DOC.

ACC officers have also refused to allow Gary to attend his medical appointments for a broken hand unless he keeps his kufi off. Gary has declined to do so, and the pain in his hand is ongoing.  

Other details surrounding ACC staff’s denial of reasonable accommodations can be found in the complaint.