Monday, March 05, 2007

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Holley v. California Department of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12683 (ED CA, Feb. 23, 2007), a California federal district court dismissed a prisoner's RLUIPA and Equal Protection claims, finding that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff had claimed that he should be allowed to grow his hair for religious reasons despite prison grooming requirements.

In Fisher v. Virginia Department of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13063 (WD VA, Feb. 23, 2007), a Virginia federal Magistrate Judge recommended that certain of defendants' summary judgment motions be denied and that a prisoner be permitted to proceed with various of his First and Fourteenth Amendment and RLUIPA claims asserting that prison officials would not allow him to possess a "Thor's Hammer" pendant, central to his practice of Asatru, even though they allowed inmates of other religions to possess religious medallions. -- UPDATE: On March 15, the court adopted the Magistrate's report and recommendation, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18270.

In Rose v. Snyder, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13342 (SD IL, Feb. 27, 2007), an Illinois federal district judge approved the recommendations of Magistrate Judge denying the claims of a Rastafarian prisoner that he should be permitted to wear dreadlocks in violation of prison grooming rules.

In Abdullah v. Frank, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13215 (ED WI, Feb. 26, 2007), a Wisconsin federal district court denied a motion for summary judgment by a Sunni Muslim prisoner who claimed that his rights under RLUIPA and the free exercise clause were infringed when he was denied the right to possess a turban/Kifiyyah, a Thawb and a silver ring in order to carry out the practices of his religion. The court found that questions of fact remained as to whether plaintiff's religious practices had been substantially burdened and whether prison officials acted in an intentionally discriminatory manner.

In Judd v. Adams, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14502 (ED CA, Feb. 20, 2007), involved a claim by a prisoner who was an adherent of the Asatru/Odinist faith that he had difficulties in getting permission to keep a Thor's hammer medallion and alter cloth. A California federal Magistrate Judge dismissed the claims, but gave the prisoner the right to file amended complaints as to his First Amendment and RLUIPA claims.

In State of Ohio v. Whitaker, (OH Ct. App., march 2, 2007), an Ohio appellate court vacated the imposition of a 12-month prison sentence on Troy Whitaker, an adherent of a Native American religion, after he violated his community control by being unsuccessfully discharged from an alcohol residential treatment facility. Whhitaker had refused to cut his hair in violation of the program's grooming requirements. The court found that the state had not shown that forcing Whitaker to cut his hair is the least restrictive means to enforce any compelling interest the state has. It also held that Whitaker did not have to prove his Native American heritage to assert his claim.