Sunday, December 06, 2009

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Robinson v. Jacquez, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110710 (ND CA, Nov. 10, 2009), a California federal district judge dismissed an inmate's claims that his free exercise rights were violated by prison authorities' failing to provide kosher meals, permit attendance at Jewish service, and provide a staff rabbi. The court found this was duplicative of another suit already filed by plaintiff.

In Grayson v. Evans, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111953 (SD IL, Dec. 1, 2009), an Illinois federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his claim that his free exercise rights were violated when he was sent to segregation for refusing to cut his hair. He claims that his African Hebrew-Israelite religion requires him to grow his hair long.

In Williams v. Sampson, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111589 (ED CA, Nov. 13, 2009), a California federal magistrate judge concluded that an inmate's claims that prison officials failed to set up a religious program for Muslim prisoners were too vague to state an equal protection or free exercise claim.

In Lawson v. Florida Department, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111747 (ND FL, Nov. 3, 2009), a Florida federal magistrate judge found that plaintiff had misrepresented facts to the Court and pursued a frivolous, malicious claim in asserting that his free exercise rights were being burdened by prison officials. Plaintiff's claim was based on his assertions that he was an Orthodox Jew, while extensive evidence was presented that he consistently violated Jewish religious practices. As a Rule 11 sanction, the court recommended the lawsuit be dismissed, it be deemed a "strike" and its findings be sent to the Department of Corrections for other possible sanctions.

In Matter of Rossi v. Lape, (Sup. Ct. NY, Oct. 15, 2009), a New York trial court dismissed a Rastafarian prisoner's complaint alleging that some of his requests relating to the practice of his religion were rejected. The requests involved using the gymnasium as consecrated ground, preparation of food and availability of certain regalia for a Rastafarian event, and creation of an organization to raise funds for Rastafarian items.

In Zaahir v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, (KY Ct. App., Dec. 4, 2009), a Kentucky appellate court held in a 2-1 decision that appellant's free exercise rights do not require court and prison officials to change their records to reflect his religious name change.