Friday, October 26, 2007

Prisoner's Rights in a Ham Sandwich

In a "postmodern world," defining lines of every sort are blurring closer to oblivion every day. When the time is right we egocentric maniacs demand the very defining lines we disdain be redefined to suit our wants, to prove our points, and to damn the man. Two of these lines butted heads recently in UK's Leeds Prison.

In an apparent mix up at the maximum security prison Muslim inmates were accidentally served ham sandwiches during the month of Ramadan. Read the article for the details here. Sure it was in England, but the degree of separation from the U.S. is more marginal than you may think--similar stories are prevalent across the states.

I am all for religious freedom, the right to practice and observe, and the right to share one's beliefs in the public sphere, but where should the line be drawn when it comes to "prisoner's rights?" Should a prisoner (maximum security) be given privy over their fellow law-breakers? A woman down the street from me regularly sacrificed goats in her back yard per her religious right. Should she wind up behind bars should she be allowed to level here weight and sue the state for millions? Where do we draw the line? Certainly if I were imprisoned I would want to live out my beliefs as normally as possible; but at the same time, I hope my commitment to the morals embedded in my faith keep me out of the slammer.

Most Christians believe in Lex Talionis (an eye for an eye), as do I. However, most Christians who love to quote this scriptural reference with retributive menace are ignorant of the meaning. A Hebrew of the Old Testament would have known that this statement was less of a demand for tough punishment, but more of a demand for "prisoner's rights." For example, were I to break my neighbor's nose with a hammer, Lex Talionis is not there to ensure my feet are not dipped in a vat of sulfuric acid for justice's sake; rather, it states that it would be a travesty if my punishment resulted in anything worse than a crooked nose--the punishment shall not be greater than the crime.

So yes, prisoners rights are important, and intrinsic to the signature ethics of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. BUT, rights must be deprived for punishments sake. A prisoner of a maximum security prison losses his/her right to personal freedom. Where does the line exist in the consumption of pork for the Muslim prisoner? What would Lex Talionis have to say?


Kenni B said...

They weren't FORCED to eat anything. They were simply SERVED the ham. I hope the court tells them to shove their lawsuit.

I'm not so sure about whether they should be given special treatment in regards to food. I wouldn't want them to tell me I couldn't have a Bible because it was special treatment. Not that I ever plan on going to jail!

RC said...

i see what you're saying, but i think when possible adjustments should be made for one's beliefs.

i agree with kenni that they weren't forced to eat the ham and that is a big difference.

it does make me think of daniel being forced to forsake his religious freedoms for the sake of country law. daniel said no, but he also faced the punishment.