Sunday, May 27, 2007

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Decisions In District and Circuit Courts

In Boles v. Neet, (10th Cir., May 24, 2007), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss a suit filed against the warden of a Colorado correctional facility by an Orthodox Jewish prisoner who was kept from leaving the facility for eye surgery because he insisted on wearing his yarmulke and tallit katan. The court said that plaintiff adequately demonstrated that prison authorities substantially burdened his sincerely held religious beliefs, and defendant made no showing of penological interests justifying the restriction. The warden has claimed qualified immunity as a defense.

In Harris v. N.C.P. Dept, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37902 (ED NY, May 24, 2007), a New York federal district court held that a prisoner's pro se complaint, liberally construed, may raise a legitimate free exercise claim. Plaintiff claimed he was denied food on one or more occasions because he failed to interrupt his prayers when directed to do so by correctional officers.

In Miller v. Sullivan, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37318 (ED CA, May 8, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge dismissed, with leave to amend, a prisoner's free exercise claim because it did not allege the nature of the infringement of his religious activity nor what defendants had done to burden his free exercise.

In Livingston v. Griffin, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36941 (ND NY, May 21, 2007), a Rastafarian prisoner won a partial victory in his claims that his free exercise rights had been violated by prison authorities. The court rejected his claim that his religious beliefs were substantially burdened when authorities attempted to force him to be handcuffed to, and sit for several hours beside, another inmate who he believed to be a homosexual or transsexual. However the court allowed plaintiff to proceed with his claim that he was wrongfully denied alternative religious meals by prison officials.

In El-Tabech v. Clarke, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36719 (D NE, May 18, 2007), a Muslim prisoner filed a claims under the First Amendment and RLUIPA alleging that "his religion requires that he adhere to a Halal diet: eating only permitted kosher food". A Nebraska federal district court refused to grant defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that genuine issues of material fact exist concerning the allegations of cost and security in affording plaintiff a kosher diet. It similarly allowed plaintiff to proceed with his claims that his religious beliefs require additional showers and adherence to a prayer schedule.

In Dicks v. Binding Together, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36615 (SD NY, May 18, 2007), a New York federal district court allowed an inmate in a work release program to move ahead with his Free Exercise and state law challenges to the refusal by authorities to grant him a pass to attend Pentecostal church services.

In Stewart v. Canteen Food Services, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36396 (D AZ, May 16, 2007), an Arizona federal district judge refused to grant a motion by defendant to reconsider an earlier decision permitting a prisoner to move ahead with a free exercise claim that he was not consistently served a lacto-vegetarian diet. It also refused to grant plaintiff's motion to re-instate certain of his claims that had been previously dismissed.