Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases-- Weekly Installment #2

In Smith v. Secretary of CDCR, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47183 (ED CA, April 3, 2012), a California federal magistrate judge rejected a claim for damages brought by an inmate who said he was a real Jew descended from Black Hebrew Israelites, and that he was refused kosher meals. The court ruled that money damages are not available for violations of RLUIPA.

In Neal v. Cross, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46878 (SD IL, April 3, 2012), an Illinois federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that his free exercise rights were infringed when his visit with his wife was cut short for unauthorized contact after a guard whispered to the officer in charge: "Muslims think they own the world."

In Heim v. Moore, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46786 (MD PA, April 3, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court allowed an inmate to proceed with is 1st Amendment free exercise and his equal protection claims (but not his RLUIPA claim) for damages after granting his request for a kosher diet was delayed without explanation for over 5 months.

In Azor v. City of New York, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47067 (ED NY, March 30, 2012), a New York federal district court rejected claims by a Rastafarian inmate that his free exercise rights were violated during his 12-hours of pre-trial detention when he was deprived of time to himself in a cell to pray, his pocket-size Bible was taken away, and he was denied prayer towels, a proper head covering and vegetarian or kosher food. He also claimed unsuccessfully that arresting officers made abusive comments about his religion.

In Bey v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation & Parole, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47459 (MD PA, April 4,2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his free exercise claim that defendants are forcing him to attend a drug and alcohol treatment program that violates his religious beliefs in order to obtain parole or a favorable parole recommendation.

In Cobb v. Mendoza-Powers, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48572 (ED CA, April 5, 2012), a California federal magistrate judge allowed an inmate to proceed with his free exercise challenge to the continued enforcement of a prison grooming policy that had been found unconstitutional. Plaintiff, who had taken a vow not to comb or shave his hair as a symbol of his relationship with God, was disciplined violating the grooming rules.

In Robledo v. Leal, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48359 (ND TX, April 5, 2012), a Texas federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's claims that his free exercise rights were violated by strip searches. He believes men should only be unclothed fully in front of their wives. The court also recommended dismissing complaints regarding removal of chairs from the chapel and limitations on the number of inmates who may participate in services at the chapel, as well as plaintiff's contention that searches of him were in retaliation for his attending Catholic services in the chapel.

In Rivers v. Mohr, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48191 (ND OH, April 5, 2012), an Ohio federal district court rejected claims by an inmate that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections decision to eliminate pork from inmate meals violated the Establishment Clause, as well as his 8th and 14th Amendment rights. The court said: "The ODRC's decision merely makes accommodating a multitude of religious practices and beliefs easier and more economical for the prison. Nothing in the Complaint suggests that the ODRC endorsed the Muslim religion."