LEBANON, Ind. — A Muslim inmate is suing a central Indiana sheriff for denying him a diet that follows Islamic dietary laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Gannon Thomas against the Boone County Sheriff’s Office over its refusal to serve him a halal diet.
It accuses the Boone County Jail of violating Thomas’s First Amendment rights and his rights under Indiana’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act signed by Gov. Mike Pence in 2015. The state law says government entities cannot pose a substantial burden to a person’s exercise of religion.
The lawsuit says the 27-year-old Indianapolis man has objected to being served pork and other meat that was not slaughtered according to Islamic laws.
Sheriff Mike Nielsen released a statement on Thursday afternoon in response to the lawsuit.
“Today I was totally caught off guard by Inmate Gannon’s alleged compliant against the Boone County Sheriff’s Office which was filed on Inmate Gannon’s behalf by Mr. Kenneth J. Faulk of the ACLU of Indiana. Unbelievably, I was made aware of this filing by the Indianapolis Star when I received an email at 12:07 this afternoon from one of their reporters asking for my comments. In my official capacity as Sheriff I have not been served or made aware of this official filing in the United States District Court-Southern District of Indiana.
The fact that Inmate Gannon is alleging that we have discriminated against him by not serving him a ‘religious diet made of Halal food – food that adheres to Islamic Law’ because he is a practicing Muslim is not accurate in my opinion. I was not even aware that there was an issue that one of our inmates had, about the type of food he was receiving because of his religious practices. I am extremely disappointed that Inmate Gannon and Mr. Faulk would not have reached out to me personally to resolve this alleged issue before filing a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Damages against me as the Sheriff of Boone County. Furthermore, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. Unfortunately now that a case has been filed I cannot make any further comments on this matter.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.