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Michigan settles vegan prisoner's lawsuit for $20,000

Detroit - The state of Michigan has agreed to pay $20,000 to settle a lawsuit by an 80-year-old convicted killer who said his civil rights were violated when he was denied vegan meals for two years.

The state settled the case during a June trial after U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ruled in favor of the prisoner before jury deliberations, attorney Dan Manville said.

George Hall, who has been in prison for 40 years, said he's a Messianic Jew and doesn't eat food that comes from an animal or fish. But in 2010, the Lakeland prison in Coldwater questioned the religious requirement and stopped providing special meals to him. He instead was offered a kosher non-vegan diet.

"So long as Hall's personal religious belief is sincerely held that he cannot consume animal products, the First Amendment protects his rights," Manville said in a court filing.

The state denied violating Hall's rights. During the two years, Hall's weight dropped by at least 26 pounds.

"He went hungry most days because he was not allowed to consume a vegan diet," said Manville, who represented Hall with significant assistance from two law students from Michigan State University, Anna Stephens and David Loudon.

The Corrections Department noted that Hall had purchased milk, meat and other non-vegan items from the prison commissary. Hall said they were for bartering with other prisoners, not personal consumption, and the purchases were made after his special meals were restored.

In 1975, Hall was convicted of killing three people at a card game in East Lansing. He is serving a life sentence.

Ed White, Associated Press

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