Sunday, April 08, 2007

Recent District and Circuit Court Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Armstrong v. Beauclair, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24008 (D ID, March 29, 2007), an Idaho federal district court concluded that various Idaho correctional officials and members of the Idaho Parole Commission violated the Establishment Clause by requiring an inmate, over his religious objections, to attend a religiously-based prison rehabilitation program prior to considering his eligibility for parole. The court required that the inmate be granted a new parole eligibility interview and hearing at which his refusal to attend AA sessions would not be considered. It also permitted plaintiff to move ahead with his damage claims against some, but not all, of the defendants.

In Johnson v. Sherman, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24098 (ED CA, April 2, 2007), a California federal district court rejected a Rastafarian prisoner's request for a preliminary injunction to prevent prison officials from requiring him to submit to a tuberculosis skin test. The court found that the state had a compelling interest in requiring the test.

In Thomas v. Montana State Prison, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25088 (D MT, April 4, 2007), a Montana federal district court affirmed a magistrate's decision rejecting the claim of a member of the Asatru Odinist faith that he was denied access to texts, tools and land necessary for religious worship.

In McFarland v. Ellis, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25126 (ED CA, April 3, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge permitted a Muslim inmate in a federal prison to proceed with free exercise, equal protection and RLUIPA claims. Plaintiff claimed that he was denied a ceremonial meal to celebrate Eid-ul-Adha (feast of sacrifice), while Jews and Christians were accommodated with special food on their holidays.

In Spratt v. Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections, (1st Cir., April 6, 2007), the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and held that under RLUIPA, Rhode Island had failed to justify its blanket ban on inmates preaching to other inmates. It failed to show that the state's interest in prison security was furthered by the application of the ban to plaintiff who had been preaching in prison for seven years under a prior warden without incident. The Boston Globe on April 7 reported on the decision. (See prior related postings, 1, 2.)

In Safouane v. Fleck, (9th Cir.,March 30, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that a Muslim prisoner's free exercise rights were not infringed when correctional authorities refused to permit her to wear her hijab in jail. Much of the decision, as well as the dissent, focused on other claims in the case.

In Nelson v. Runnels, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25327 (ED CA, March 22, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge rejected as too vague a prisoner's allegations of RLUIPA violations. Plaintiff alleged that defendants had denied him access to religious services and threatened him for not complying with the grooming standards.

In Keen v. Noble, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25211 (ED CA, April 4, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of First Amendment and RLUIPA claims by a prisoner of the Asatru faith. Plaintiff had requested that he be permitted to possess "runestones" as personal religious property and to construct a "hof" in which to conduct religious practices.