Sunday, January 20, 2008

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Hill v. Cruz, (5th Cir., Jan. 14, 2008), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Muslim inmate's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims challenging the Texas prison system's policy on the substitution of pork entrees with other food items.

In McCollum v. California, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95716 (ND CA, Dec. 13, 2007), a California federal district court dismissed Wiccan inmates' Establishment Clause and equal protection challenges to California's Five State-Sanctioned Faiths Policy because plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies. However it permitted inmates' free exercise claims, as well as a taxpayer Establishment Clause challenge, to move forward. (See prior related posting.)

In Hysell v. Pliler, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2721 ED CA, Jan. 14, 2008) a California federal magistrate judge rejected an inmate's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims that he was denied access to various artifacts necessary to practice his Wiccan religious beliefs. The court found the instances cited were either justified by a compelling governmental interest or did not place a substantial burden on defendant. Certain other claims were rejected as unexhausted.

In Bryant v. Tilton, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2930 (ED CA, Jan. 14, 2008), a California federal magistrate judge rejected a claim by a Muslim prisoner that the exclusion of those serving a life sentence without parole from California's conjugal visit program infringed his free exercise rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. Plaintiff argued that under Islamic law, his wife could file for annulment or divorce if their marriage is not consummated within four months. However, the court found, plaintiff married in 1993 and at that time he was able to, and did participate in the family visiting program.

In Wesley v. Muhammad, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3136 (SD NY, Jan. 10, 2008), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended that a Muslim inmate be allowed to proceed with most of his claims that meals served and prison commissary items furnished to him at Rikers Island prison facilities violated his religious dietary requirements that limited him to Halal food.

In Best-Bey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3540 (ED PA, Jan. 17, 2008), an inmate alleged that he was not permitted to observe his holy day of Friday or keep his fez on for the day. A Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed the claim against the city of Philadelphia, finding that the alleged violations did not stem from any policy or practice of the Philadelphia Prison System, and that the city cannot be held on a respondeat superior theory for actions of prison employees.