Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Flood Of Prisoner Free Exercise Cases This Week

In McClain v. Leisure (7th Cir., Aug. 23, 2006), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an Indiana inmate’s claim that a prison employee’s seizure of his painting depicting white supremacist and Asatru imagery violated his free exercise rights.

In Runningbird v. Weber, (8th Cir., Aug. 28 2006), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of an inmate’s claim that his right to practice his Native American Religion was violated. Restrictions on tobacco and sweat-lodge ceremonies, and denial of a Lowampi ceremony were found to be constitutional. It also rejected complaints of denial of a religious advisor, denial of peyote, permitting women to occasionally handle religious objects and observe ceremonies, and denial of certain sacred food for ceremonies. The court also rejected the inmate’s equal protection claim.

In Alston v. Sanchez, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61515 (ED CA, Aug. 28, 2006), a California federal district court rejected as moot a challenge by a Rastafarian inmate to a prison’s regulation of hair length. California had changed its grooming policies in response to a 9th Circuit decision invalidating its former policy.

In VanDyke v. Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60325 (WD VA, Aug. 28, 2006), a Virginia federal district court rejected a series of claims by an inmate who alleged that while he was confined at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail his constitutional rights, including his right to the free exercise of religion, were violated. The court upheld the jail’s confiscation of the inmate’s chain and crucifix because it could be fashioned into a sharp object, and the jail’s refusal to write a check for $8 from the inmate’s account as a contribution to his church.

In Williams v. Ferguson, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61586 (ED CA, Aug. 28, 2006), a California federal district court held that prison officials did not violate an inmate’s rights under RLUIPA when they questioned him as to the authenticity of his claim that he was a practicing Muslim in order to determine whether or not he should be granted an exemption from the prison’s normal grooming standards.

In Kwanzaa v. Brown, 2006 U.S. Dist LEXIS 61703 (D NJ, Aug. 17, 2006), a New Jersey inmate sued alleging a wide variety of constitutional violations. The court permitted him to proceed on his allegation that he was denied his free exercise rights when he was not permitted to attend Ju'mah services in retaliation for his filing a grievance against a prison officer.

In Nelson v. Miller, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60654 (SD IL, Aug. 25, 2006), the court overruled a prison chaplain’s objections to various questions in interrogatories from an inmate who was suing to challenge the chaplain’s refusal to approve his request for a diet based on the Rule of St. Benedict that prohibits eating the flesh of any four-legged animal. The court held that the clergyman's privilege does not apply to requests made to the chaplain by an inmate for a religious diet.