PHOENIX — Arizona prison officials need to show a real hardship if they want to deny religiously permissible meals to a Muslim inmate, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In a unanimous ruling, the judges overturned a lower-court decision that upheld claims by the state Department of Corrections that providing the halal meals to Amin Shakur would create additional costs and administrative burdens. The appellate judges said there was no evidence that the state actually looked into the real cost.

The judges also noted that the state already provides two kinds of kosher meals for Jewish inmates. That, they said, not only raises questions about whether the state has a reason for its disparate treatment between Jewish and Muslim prisoners, but also casts "substantial doubt" on the state's claims that accommodating Shakur and other Muslim inmates would cause problems.

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