Monday, March 26, 2007

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Jefferson v. Wolfe, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18625 (WD PA, March 16, 2007), a federal Magistrate Judge rejected an Establishment Clause, a Free Exercise Clause, a retaliation and an Equal Protection Clause claim by a Muslim inmate, Leonard Jefferson. It found that Jefferson had not been coerced into participating in religious-based rehabilitation programs; that forcing him to participate in non-Islamic based programs did not violate his free exercise rights; that his removal from his job as Chapel clerk was justified based on his inflammatory and disruptive poetry; and that he was offered access to the same programs and benefits as other prisoners.

In Henderson v. Ayers, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18791 (CD CA, Feb. 23, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge permitted an inmate to move forward with a claim under RLUIPA that his rights were violated when he was denied time off work to attend Friday Islamic prayer services.

In Phillips v. Stanley, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19608 (WD VA, March 20, 2007), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a prisoner's claim that he was not able to go to church or get religious books because the prisoner failed to particularize the facts surrounding his claim.

In Goodrick v. Roane, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19360 (D ID, March 19, 2007) an Idaho federal court permitted a prisoner to move to trial with his claim that a correctional officer violated a settlement agreement in his prior free exercise claim that permitted him to keep a limited amount of religious prayer oil in his cell.

In Busick v. City of Madison, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19432 (SD MI, March 19, 2007), a Mississippi federal district judge dismissed a prisoner's challenge to a policy that permitted him to receive religious material by mail only from one approved source.

In Stanko v. Patton, (8th Cir., March 20, 2007), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's finding that a prisoner's Free Exercise claim is frivolous. The inmate claimed that he is a member of the Church of the Creator, and that eating nuts and fruit is a genuine dietary requirement of the religion.

In Hightower v. Schwarzenegger, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20520 (ED CA, March 8, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge dismissed without prejudice a prisoner's claim that defendants refused boxes of religious books sent to him directly by the publisher on more than one occasion. The court said that plaintiff needed to amend his complaint to link the named defendants with the alleged conduct.

In Larry v. Goetz, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20619 (WD WI, March 20, 2007), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected a Muslim inmate's claim that a volunteer chaplain at the Dane County jail violated his free exercise rights by failing to arrange Jumah services. There was no evidence that the chaplain had the authority to determine whether such services would be offered.

In Coronel v. Paul, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 6928 (9th Cir., March 12, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Arizona federal district court dismissal of a claim against a prison chaplain, the warden, and Corrections Corporation of America at a CCA-operated prison. It held that the lower court erred in finding these defendants uninvolved in alleged infringements of an Hawaiian inmate's rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. They had implemented an order of the Hawaii Department of Corrections that Hawaiian inmates be prohibited from participating in Pascua Yaqui Native American sweat lodge ceremonies because prison gangs were using these services to organize disruption.

Last week the Associated Press reported on the settlement of a lawsuit brought by by the ACLU on behalf of a Mormon prisoner against Louisiana State Penitentiary. The prison will now permit the inmate to buy books from several previously-unapproved Church of Jesus Christ vendors, including Brigham Young University's bookstore.