Muslim civil rights advocates announced a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging the methods allegedly used by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to meet the religious needs of Muslim detainees at Men’s Central Jail.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Los Angeles federal court on behalf of three Muslim inmates, alleges that Muslim detainees must first obtain approval that is difficult to get before being allowed access to religious texts, prayer mats and skull caps.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations contends that even if such items are approved, inmates are only permitted to use them during Friday prayer, services which CAIR contends are not permitted in the first place.

A sheriff’s department spokeswoman said the agency was not aware of the suit and does not comment on pending litigation.

According to the complaint, which seeks a judge’s order and damages, guards routinely subject inmates to “rigorous and unlawful scrutiny,” including questions about their faith to prove they are Muslim before they are granted a religious diet.

The lawsuit also challenges the department’s alleged policy of requiring special custody Muslim inmates to strip to their underwear as condition of access to the law library, which CAIR contends violates their religious beliefs regarding modesty.

“The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department treatment of religious requests from inmates is egregious,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri. “Our clients have had to resort to hunger strikes to get basic religious accommodations to practice their faith after their written requests and grievances were repeatedly ignored and denied.”

CAIR also alleges that the sheriff’s department is failing to accommodate inmates’ practice of Islam even though they are under court-ordered supervision by the ACLU of Southern California’s Jails Project.

“Our nation’s commitment to religious liberty must extend to the sincere practice of faith by prisoners,” said Patricia Shnell, a civil rights attorney with CAIR-California’s Los Angeles office. “We are proud to represent these men to ensure Men’s Central Jail complies with federal law and the U.S. Constitution.”

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