2 Iowa prison inmates sue over religious issues

DES MOINES – Two Iowa prison inmates must receive nightly meals and chapel time during Ramadan and be allowed the same religious accommodations as other Muslims, a federal judge ruled.

Michael Williams-El and James Blair-Bey sued prison officials in 2012 from the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

Both men are serving life prison sentences for first-degree murder. Blair, 54, was sentenced in December 1982 from Polk County and Williams, 40, went to prison in 1999 from Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, prison records indicate.

Magistrate Judge Thomas Shields said in ruling filed Tuesday in Des Moines federal law and the U.S. Constitution requires the men to be able to participate in their religion.

The men identify themselves as members of the Moorish Science Temple of America, and they said in court documents their religious faith is Moorish Islam.

In 2012 the men were no longer permitted to participate in the activities associated with Ramadan including eating their meal after sunset as other Muslims did. They also were no longer authorized to meet at night in the prison chapel with other inmates to break their fast, read the Quran and engage in discussions. The decision was made after the Muslim leader Imam Taha Tawil determined that members of the Moorish Science Temple have beliefs contrary to those of Islam.

Tawil said in court testimony that Moorish Science Temple members recognize Noble Drew Ali as a prophet, which Tawil said contradicts the Quran which teaches that Muhammad is the final prophet.

The two inmates sued the state and more than a dozen corrections officials seeking the right to practice their religion.