Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Inmate With Multiple Wives Can Move Ahead With RLUIPA Challenge To Conjugal Visit Rule

While prisoner lawsuits challenging limits on conjugal visits are not particularly unusual, the challenge involved in Thomas v. Corbett, (PA Commonwealth Ct., April 29, 2014) presents unusual facts.  As described by the court:
Thomas raises several claims in the Complaint relating to DOC’s conjugal visit policy, which precludes conjugal visits for all inmates. Thomas avers that his religion requires him to marry and, in fact, to have multiple wives.  Thomas avers that DOC’s policy concerning visits from spouses precludes him from enjoying conjugal visits with his wives. Thomas avers that this policy has a detrimental effect on the status of his marriages, because his wives are threatening to divorce him under Islamic religious rules if they are unable to have intercourse with him.
In the case, the 3-judge Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court  panel refused to dismiss plaintiff's  RLUIPA challenge to the conjugal visit ban at this early stage of the proceedings.  It is not enough for the government to merely allege that it has a compelling interest. The court also allowed plaintiff to move forward with a portion of his challenge to the prison's ban on prayer oil. PennLive reports on the decision.