Monday, June 23, 2008

Odinists Win Right To Group Worship In Prison

In an interesting prisoner free-exercise decision, an Indiana federal district court has ruled that the Indiana Department of Correction's policy banning all group worship for Odinists violates RLUIPA. In Hummel v. Donahue, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47534 (SD IN, June 19, 2008), the court held that while the interest in maintaining safety and security is compelling, prison officials must do more than speculate that a religious practice will lead to problems. Here officials were concerned that white supremacists would claim to practice Odinism, but presented no concrete evidence to support this. Secondly, there were less restrictive alternatives than totally banning group worship. These included pre-approved scripts for worship services, increased training for correctional officers, pre-approved volunteers from outside to lead services, and research into solutions found by other prison systems. The court gave defendants 60 days to put a new policy for group worship by Odinists into place.