Press Release

Pro Bono Team Settles Religious Freedom Case With the Utah Department of Corrections

May 9, 2023

Attorneys from Troutman Pepper and Ballard Spahr recently settled a case vindicating the constitutional rights of a pro bono client incarcerated at the Central Utah Correctional Facility, a state prison in Utah.

The Utah Department of Corrections (UDC) agreed to enter a consent order, signed on May 8 by U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer, ensuring Islamic inmates’ right to participate in Jumu’ah prayer on Fridays. The UDC also agreed to make multiple changes to its policy on religious congregate services.

The pro bono client, a devout Muslim, was prevented from participating in Jumu’ah on a regular basis for years. Prior to the conclusion of the lawsuit, the UDC required that an “affiliated volunteer” from one’s own religion needed to be present to lead any religious services. Since the client is imprisoned in a rural area 125 miles away from Salt Lake City, and is a member of minority faith in Utah, there were no available volunteers.

Both firms are pleased with the result and proud to participate in this important religious freedom case. “Every person in the United States, no matter where they are, should be free to exercise their religious beliefs,” said Troutman Pepper Partner Tony Kaye, who supervised the pro bono team. “We are very satisfied with the outcome of this case because not only our client, but all Muslim inmates at UDC, can now lead their own prayers.”

The consent order will stay in place for five years and includes reporting requirements that enable the teams at Troutman Pepper and Ballard Spahr, along with the court, to monitor for any violations. The State also agreed to hire an additional part-time chaplain to work Fridays and weekends so Islamic services can continue in the absence of a volunteer. In addition, the Utah Attorney General’s Office will provide annual trainings to UDC employees regarding inmates’ constitutional rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The State will also ensure that a minimum of three inmates are allowed to gather at a time to participate in Jumu’ah on a weekly basis, as is required by the Islamic faith.

“We are extremely pleased with the results and are particularly proud of the reporting requirements put in place to ensure that religious freedoms are not violated again moving forward,” said Ashley Waddoups, an associate in Ballard Spahr’s Litigation Department. “Tony and I are passionate about social justice, and I am grateful we achieved this result for our client and other state prison inmates in Utah.”

Through Ballard Spahr’s nationally recognized pro bono program, firm lawyers annually provide more than 50,000 hours of pro bono legal services. Ballard Spahr advocates for civil rights in matters involving race equity, asylum, speech, education, and incarceration; provides tax, corporate, and other assistance to the nonprofit organizations that help our communities thrive; and represents low-income individuals and families in a full spectrum of legal matters where they would not otherwise have access to counsel.

For media inquiries, please contact Bill Shralow at 215.864.8195.

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