Sunday, August 01, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Smith v. Thompson, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74666 (ED KY, July 23, 2010), a Kentucky federal district court rejected a prisoner's free exercise, RLUIPA and other challenges to a prison policy that prevents him from wearing his wedding right that contains stones which are contraband. Plaintiff alleged that he and his wife, as members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, have entered into holy vows that  prohibit the removal and/or substitution of rings exchanged during their wedding ceremony. Among other things, the court concluded that plaintiff's contentions were not consistent with church doctrine.

In Rodriguez v. Wells, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76764 (SD GA, July 29, 2010), a Georgia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist LEXIS 76770, June 30, 2010) and dismissed claims by a prisoner that the state prison system should offer kosher meals consistent with Jewish and Muslim dietary restriction. It also held that plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in objecting to being disciplined for boycotting three specific meals as part of a group demonstration. In a related case, Eraso v. Wells, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76762 (SD GA, July 29, 2010), the court also adopted the magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76760, June 25, 2010) and held that a complaint about lack of kosher food could not properly be raised in a habeas corpus proceeding, and in any case plaintiff had failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

In McCoy v. Frazier, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76702 (ED VA, July 2, 2010), a Virgina federal district judge dismissed an inmate's free exercise challenge to a prison security rule that precludes Muslim prisoners from praying (or otherwise speaking) in Arabic (which their supervisor cannot understand) when the service includes inmates from different housing units and different security levels.

In Allen v. White, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75884 (WD OK, July 27, 2010) a federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75665, April 22, 2010), and denied without prejudice a preliminary injunction to an inmate who wanted a Mesoamerican diet which conforms with his Aztec/Santeria beliefs, as well as ritual items, including incense, drums, animal pelts, and materials to build a fire pit, and certain books that are required by such beliefs. He also sought an injunction to prevent authorities from retaliating against him by transferring him to another institution. The court also denied his request to appoint counsel.

In Funderburk v. Nevens, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75171 (D NV, July 26, 2010), a Nevada federal district court held that prison authorities had adequately accommodated plaintiff's participation in the Ramadan fast by providing pre-dawn and post-sunset meals.

In Jones v. Correctional Care Solutions, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74647 (D SC, July 23, 2010), a South Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations and dismissed an inmate's objections to the fact that inmates observing Ramadan receive only snacks in addition to the dinner tray rather than an additional full lunch tray as well to eat then.

In Rouser v. Tilton, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74629 (ED CA, July 23, 2010),a California federal magistrate judge in a recommendation to the court rejected claims by a Wiccan inmate regarding various interferences with his ability to practice his religion. Among other things, the opinion held that claims under RLUIPA for monetary damages are not available in personal capacity suits against officials and are barred by the 11th Amendment in official capacity suits.

In Sherman-Bey v. Marshall, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74558 (CD CA, July 22, 2010), a California federal magistrate judge rejected objections by an inmate who is a member of the Moorish Science Temple of America to a prison ban on wearing of red clothing (except in sporting events). Plaintiff wanted to obtain a red fez, while prison rules permitted only white or gray ones. It also rejected complaints that there were no services, separate from Muslim ones, for Moorish Science adherents, and that prison rules permitted only five kinds of scented oils. The decision however granted plaintiff the right to file an amended complaint.