Sunday, June 13, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Hodgson v. Fabian, (8th Cir., June 7, 2010), the 8th Circuit rejected a Wiccan inmate's challenges under RLUIPA and the First Amendment to limits on his keeping prayer oil in his cell and limits on the herbs he can purchase and on smudging and incense burning inside. It also rejected his complaints about delay in receiving his religious mail.

In Strope v. Cummings, (10th Cir., June 9, 2010), the 10th Circuit rejected an inmate's complaints alleging deficiencies in the prison's kosher diet, interference with access to scheduled religious services and retaliatory transfer between cell units.

In Gonzalez v. Mullen, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55947 (ND CA, May 14, 2010), a California federal district court held that an inmate who objected that he was not allowed to have his cassette player to use to play religious tapes failed to state a cognizable free exercise claim. Prison rules allowed one audio entertainment device, and plaintiff chose a CD player.

In Sparks v. Dennehy, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127259 (D MA, Oct. 20, 2009), a Massachusetts federal magistrate judge recommended that plaintiff be permitted to move ahead with equal protection, Free exercise and RLUIPA challenges to the failure of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to recognize Asatru/Ordinism/Wotanism as a religion, which would give adherents access to group worship, outside clergy and religious literature.

In Eastwood v. Kicklighter, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56697 (WD VA, June 8, 2010), a Virginia federal district court rejected an inmate's claims that he was terminated from a vocational class in retaliation for his attendance at a Kairos religious service.

In Mitchell v. Quarterman, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56618, (ED TX, June 9, 2010), a Texas federal district court adopted the recommendations of a federal magistrate judge (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56620, May 11, 2010) rejecting an inmate's claim that his being observed by female officers while showering and using the toilet amounts to a "substantial burden" on his exercise of his religious beliefs. Maintenance of security in prison, and offering equal opportunity to female correction officers, were held to be compelling interests.

In Burriola v. Nevada Department of Corrections, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57396 (D NV, June 8, 2010), a Nevada federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57421, Feb. 8, 2010) and dismissed an inmate's Free Exercise and RLUIPA challenges to a prison rule that permits him to possess no more than ten magazines. Plaintiff, a Seventh Day Adventist, argued that distribution of religious periodicals is part of his faith, and he needs numerous copies (he was in possession of 50 copies that were confiscated) because the need to distribute literature may arise at any time and place.

In Gundlah v. Pallito, 2010 Vt. Super. LEXIS 12 (VT Super., March 18, 2010), a Vermont prisoner who was sent to Florida for confinement pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact sued in Vermont challenging Florida's policy of not serving kosher meals in its prisons. A Vermont trial court held that even though the claim has constitutional dimensions, this is merely a dispute over conditions of confinement in Florida, and is to be resolved by the Florida Department of Corrections under Florida law.

In Levesque v. New Hampshire, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57278 (D NH, June 9, 20010), a New Hampshire federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations ( 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57249, May 12, 2010), rejecting an inmate's claim that his mental health treatment amounts to coercive religious programming, and finding instead that it is an entirely secular medical treatment.