Sunday, July 03, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Ayotte v. McPeek, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67913 (D CO, June 24, 2010), a Colorado federal district court held that an inmate's exercise of his religious beliefs was not substantially burdened by delay in maintaining his hearing aids and in not providing sign language interpreters at two Catholic religious studies classes he attended.

In Avery v. Thompson, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68100 (ND CA, June 24, 2011), a California federal district court rejected both plaintiff's and defendants' motions for summary judgment in a suit challenging prison official's confiscation of 265 pamphlets from an inmate who says he is a believer in the Wotanism faith. Prison officials claim the pamphlets are neo-Nazi literature. The court referred the case to the Pro Se Prisoner Settlement Program.

In Jackson v. St. Laweence, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68860, (SD GA, June 27, 2011), a Muslim inmate
sought an injunction requiring the jail to provide a separate Muslim unit similar to two Christian Dorm units; an area for Muslims to offer their obligatory five Salat prayers daily; an extra blanket for prayer and towel to cover the urinal for Muslims; and a place for Friday Al Jumu'ah prayers. He also sought $2 million in damages. A Georgia federal magistrate judge dismissed plaintiff's pain and suffering damage claim but permitted him to move ahead with the remainder of his claims. However the court also required plaintiff to pay filing fees on an installment basis from his prison account.

In Newberg v. Geo Group, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68955 (MD FL, June 27, 2011), a Florida federal district court dismissed as moot claims by a follower of a Native American religion regarding restrictions at a civil commitment center that previously prevented the sacred pipe ceremony and smudging.  The court rejected plaintiff's challenge to the lack of a sweat lodge and fire pit.

In Lee v. Johnson, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69509 (WD VA, June 28, 2011), a Virginia federal district court   rejected a challenge by an inmate who belonged to the House of Yahweh faith to prison rules that allowed group worship only if there are at least 5 inmates who express an interest in congregate services.  The court also rejected other claims against the prison chaplain for failing to procure House of Yahweh religious material and failing to post a sign-up sheet for House of Yahweh services.

In Kwanzaa v. Mee, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69531 (D NJ, June 28, 2011), a New Jersey federal district court dismissed free exercise claims by a Muslim inmate who alleged that during Ramadan, he did not receive the same 2200 calorie diet that non-Muslims received, that on two dates he was hindered from calling the Islamic call to prayer and that corrections officers referred to him by his birth name instead of his religious name.

In Christensen v. Schwarzenegger, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69209 (ED CA, June 27, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to file an amended complaint, a claim that prison officials failed to provide Wiccan inmates with appropriate religious space for their worship services. Plaintiff failed to connect the named defendants to the claimed free exercise violations.