Thursday, April 03, 2008

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Kaufman v. Karlen, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 6181 (7th Cir., March 20, 2008), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of appeals upheld a district court's rejection of claims by an atheist inmate who complained that he was not permitted to wear a silver circle pin which authorities found had nothing to do with religion. The court also upheld the prison library's delay in processing atheist books that had been donated to it.

In Pogue v. Woodford, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22438 (ED CA, March 21, 2008), a California federal magistrate judge recommended that prison officials be required, in response to plaintiff's interrogatories, to furnish any state-wide guidelines issued by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation regarding Muslim inmates' ability to practice Islam, as well as any information they have on why the prisons at which plaintiff has been housed have different Operational Procedures concerning how Islam is to be practiced.

In Dean v. Corrections Corporation of America, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24862 (ND MS, March 28, 2008), a Mississippi federal district court upheld the application of RLUIPA to a private company which under contract with the state provides prison facilities. It held however that a prisoner whose rights were violated by the denial of a diet meeting his religious needs is limited to recovering nominal damages.

In Daly v. Davis, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24851 (SD IL, March 28, 2008), and Illinois federal district court upheld a prison's requirement that in order for inmates to continue to qualify for the kosher food program, they may not eat, purchase or possess non-kosher food. The strict kosher diet requirement, according to the court, did not substantially burden plaintiff's religious exercise.

In Thomas v. Picio, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24828 (SD NY, March 26, 2008), a New York federal district judge found that plaintiff's assertion that she was denied kosher meals for several days was unsupported by her testimony.

Robinson v. City of New York, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25001 (SD NY, March 5, 2008), is another opinion in a series of cases brought by Muslim prisoner's at Rikers Island challenging the way in which prison personnel prepare and handle Halal meals as well as the manner of sale of food in the prison's commissary. The court concluded that plaintiffs have standing and permitted them to proceed to trial on their claim that the failure to list the non-Halal products in commissary items leads to their mistaken purchase by Muslim inmates who then place that food on the Halal trays in the dining facility, contaminating the trays for other observant users. However qualified immunity excused two correctional officers who merely worked in the commissary.

In Eberle v. Wilkinson, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25067, (SD OH, March 28, 2008), an Ohio federal magistrate judge ruled that an inmate's claim that he was denied the opportunity to freely exercise his Asatru religious beliefs should be asserted as part of a pending class action instead of in this individual lawsuit.

In Perez v. Frank, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25196 (ED WI, March 28, 2008), a Wisconsin federal district court dealt with a variety of RLUIPA and free exercise claims brought by two Sunni Muslim inmates. The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to denial of the inmates' ability to participate in a religious discussion group, denial of various religious items, claims regarding Halal food, claims regarding the prison's urinalysis policy, and the food served for Eid al Fitr. However the court refused to grant summary judgment to defendants on claims regarding scheduling of the Eid al Fitr celebration and the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha. The court also rejected Establishment clause and equal protection claims.