Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Litigation and Decisions

In Haymes v. Nardolillo, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25822 (ED PA, March 31, 2008), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate's free exercise claim. The court upheld prison officials' refusal to permit plaintiff to attend prayer services and their refuseal to appoint an Islamic chaplain to lead prayers and services.

In Coleman v. Granholm, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26335 (ED MI, April 2, 2008), a Michigan federal district judge, agreeing with a magistrate's recommendation and report, concluded that prison restrictions on inmates with respect to radios, tape players, and television programs did not imposed a substantial burden on plaintiffs' exercise of their religious beliefs.

In Toler v. Leopold, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27121 (ED MO, April 3, 2008), a Missouri federal district court ruled in favor of an inmate's claim that denial of a kosher diet violated his rights under RLUIPA and the First Amendment.

In Abdulhaseeb v. Calbone, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26815 (WD OK, April 2, 2008), an Oklahoma federal district court dismissed a Muslim prisoner's claims against various defendants. Plaintiff argued that a substantial burden had been placed on his free exercise rights by failing to provide a full-time orthodox Muslim spiritual leader, refusing to permit him to attend Muslim religious services while publicizing Christian services, and by failing to provide him with Halal food.

Wolff v. New Hampshire Department of Corrections, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26889 (D NH, April 2, 2008) involved a prisoner's claim that a substantial burden was placed on his religious freedom by serving him kosher meals that he is unable to eat for medical reasons. The court held, however, that plaintiff had not established a causal link between his claims of illness and the prison's kosher meals.

The AP reports that last Thursday the ACLU filed suit in a Wyoming federal district court alleging that the free exercise rights of two Muslim inmates were violated by a prison rule that requires inmates to eat their meals within 20 minutes after the food is delivered to a cell or common dining area. The rule sometimes forces inmates to choose between finishing their prayers or eating. It also precludes them from holding their food until the end of a religious fast day.

The Rutland (VT) Herald reported last week that Vermont's Corrections Department has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Gordon Bock, a Jewish former inmate, who said that while in prison he was denied matzoh at Passover and was prevented from observing other Jewish holidays. (See prior related posting.) The Department has recently drafted new rules on religious accommodation.