Wednesday, December 31, 2008

DC Circuit Rejects Free Exercise Challenge To DNA Sampling

In Kaemmerling v. Lappin, (DC Cir., Dec. 30, 2008), rejected a federal prisoner's free exercise challenges the government's taking of a required DNA sample from him pursuant to the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act. Russell Kammerling argued that as an Evangelical Christian, submitting to DNA testing is repugnant to his religious beliefs regarding the proper use of "the building blocks of life." He views the collection and retention of DNA samples as laying the foundation for the rise of the anti-Christ.

First, the court held that Kammerling need not exhaust administrative remedies, because the Bureau of Prisons had no authority to grant him any relief on this issue. Moving to the merits, the court rejected Kammerling's challenges under the First Amendment and RFRA. As to RFRA, the court concluded that the DNA collection does not burden any exercise of religion by Kammerling-- it does not pressure him to change his behavior. Even if his religious exercise were burdened, the court concluded that the government had a compelling interest in collecting prisoners' DNA. Yesterday's Washington Post reported on the decision.