Sunday, March 07, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Camacho v. Shields, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 4489 (9th Cir., March 3, 2010), the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court's finding that a prisoner's religious exercise was not substantially burdened by the interruption of his prayers on one occasion.

In Witcher v. Maclunny, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17382 (MD PA, Feb. 26, 2010), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed a prisoner's complaint regarding the removal of 25 religious books, finding that plaintiff failed to allege how this substantially burdened his ability to observe a central religious belief or practice.

In Brown v. Ray, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17363 (WD VA, Feb. 26, 2010), a Virginia federal magistrate judge dismissed on qualified immunity grounds the damage claim, but not the claim for injunctive relief, brought by a Nation of Islam inmate who alleged that he is being denied his weekly NOI newspaper, The Final Call. It also dismissed certain other related claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, but permitted others to proceed.

In Banks v. Dougherty, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17443 (ND IL, Feb. 26, 2010), an Illinois federal district court dismissed on mootness and sovereign immunity grounds claims by Muslims confined in a state mental health facility that the facility did not offer Friday Jumu'ah services.

In Butts v. Riley, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17517 (WD MI, Feb. 26, 2010), a Michigan federal district court upheld a prison's refusal, for lack of sincere religious belief, to furnish plaintiff a kosher diet.

In Chappell v. Helder, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18056 (WD AK, March 1, 2010), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125391, Dec. 14, 2009), and ordered the Washington County Detention Center to revise its policies on religious presentations and use of reading materials during lockout periods. It also awarded nominal damages. Plaintiff complained that he was forced to overhear religious presentations being given in the day room during lockout periods and that the only religious reading material inmates were allowed to have during lockout was the Bible.

In Hundal v. Salazar, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18837 (CD CA, March 3, 2010), a California federal district court adopted a federal magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125479, Dec. 16, 2009) and held that a Sikh prisoner can file an amended complaint against certain defendants alleging RLUIPA violations in refusing to permit him to wear a beard. However it dismissed his Free Exercise and Equal Protection claims and his RLUIPA claim against one defendant.

In LaRue v. Matheney , (SD WV, March 4, 2010), a West Virginia federal district court rejected a free exercise claim by a prisoner who had agreed to participate in the institution's treatment program. Plaintiff signed an Individual Therapy Contract obligating him to participate in treatment sessions and to refrain from certain conduct relating to children and to sexual matters. He now claims that his inability to keep pornography in his cell violates his beliefs as a member of the Christian Prurient Faith, a ministry which he founded. The court held that the burden with which he challenges was imposed on him because of a valid contract which he voluntarily entered.

In Peterman v. Berry, (ED WI, Feb. 26, 2010), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected complaints from a Muslim inmate that he was not provided a Halal diet, he was not allowed to order various religious items, there was no Muslim group worship, and he was required to purchase a Q'uran while Bibles were given out for free. The court found that the jail attempted to accommodate plaintiff's requests and that any failure to do so was not the result of any official policy or custom of the jail.