Sunday, February 21, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Vinning El v. Evans, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13294 (SD IL, Feb. 16, 2010), plaintiff claimed his request for a vegan diet as required by his Moorish Science Temple beliefs was denied before he was transferred to his present facility. An Illinois federal district court dismissed his claims under RLUIPA because his claim for injunctive relief was now moot, and damages are not available under RLUIPA. However the court refused to dismiss his Free Exercise claim for damages because it read recent 7th Circuit precedent as requiring the state to show that it was using the least restrictive means when prison rules impose a substantial burden on religious practice.

In Wallace v. Miller, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13278 (SD IL, Feb. 16, 2010), an Illinois federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with claims that since changing his religion to Judaism, certain prison officials refused to provide him with meals and clothing satisfying his religious needs, denied him access to certain religious items and to group religious worship, and imposed grooming policies that contradict his religious beliefs. It also allowed him to move ahead with a retaliation claim. A number of other claims were dismissed without prejudice.

In Sims v. Hudson, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13392 (SD GA, Feb. 17, 2010), a Georgia federal district court, adopting a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13440, Jan. 4, 2010) held that a Muslim prisoner's free exercise rights were not violated by the prison's shower-restriction policy. Plaintiff did not show that showering at prescribed times presented an unacceptable delay before Juma'h, or Friday prayers, under Islamic law or teaching that required purification before prayer.

In Henderson v. Hubbard, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14256 (ED CA, Feb. 18, 2010), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal on statute of limitations grounds of a claim by a Muslim inmate that his free exercise rights and his rights under RLUIPA were infringed when he was denied conjugal visits with his wife. He claimed his Muslim religious beliefs require him to engage in sexual relations with his wife.

In Celestine v. Estes, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14361 (WD LA, Feb. 18, 2010), a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14131, Jan. 20, 2010) and dismissed as frivolous claims by a Hindu prisoner that he is being denied equal time in the prison chapel, is being denied use of a room in the educational building in the evening, and is not being supplied with a Hindu vegetarian diet.

In Saunders v. Wilner, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14127 (D CO, Feb. 18, 2010), a Colorado federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125123, Aug. 25, 2009) and permitted plaintiff to move ahead on his claims for injunctive relief (but not damages) under the 1st Amendment and RFRA. Plaintiff practiced the Eckankar Religion, whose primary focus is on group meditation. He wanted to be able to gather with other followers and have a spiritual leader preside over such gatherings.