Sunday, September 04, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Burnett v. Jones, (10th Cir., Aug. 31, 2011), the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an inmate's claim that his free exercise rights were violated when the prison was in lock down during Hanukkah and Christmas, denying him the opportunity to gather with other members of his faith to celebrate those holidays.

In Phillips v. Roy, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96615 (ND NY, Aug. 29, 2011), a New York federal district court permitted a Native American inmate to move ahead with his complaint that he was not permitted to participate in religious ceremonies. However it dismissed his complaint that a response to his request to order herbs was ignored for a substantial period of time and he was not permitted to purchase matches or a lighter so he could burn the herbs for smudging. The magistrate's recommendations in the case are at 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143651, Sept. 27, 2010.

In Lee v. Clarke, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96757 (ED VA, Aug. 29, 2011), a Virginia federal district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies a Muslim inmate's free exercise and RLUIPA claims objecting to a one-month cancellation of Juma prayers and restrictions on prayer during, and bringing a Qur'an to, in-pod recreation. Some claims were dismissed with prejudice, and other without prejudice.

In Venegas v. Swathout, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96321 (ED CA, Aug. 26, 2011), a California federal magistrate dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's challenge to denial of parole.  He claimed that the Board of Parole Hearings required him to attend religiously based AA or NA programs. However the court concluded that it appears petitioner had some element of choice that would have allowed him to attend a non-religious substance abuse program.

In Treesh v. Bobb-Itt, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97090 (SD OH, Aug. 29, 2011), an Ohio federal district court dismissed claims by a Native American inmate that his rights were violated when he was not permitted to wear headgear with feathers at all times, but only during Native American religious ceremonies. The court also dismissed plaintiff's claims regarding missing personal property, including items used in religious ceremonies.

In Lefler v. Allen Correctional Center, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97186 (WD LA, Aug. 29, 2011), a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97305, July 18, 2011) and dismissed complaints by a Wiccan inmate that the coordinator of the prison's faith based program stopped him from sharing information about his pagan beliefs with others in the program.

In Harris v. Skolnik, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97695 (D NV, Aug. 29, 2011), a Nevada federal magistrate judge permitted an inmate to move ahead with his claim that by denying him a kosher diet unless his Jewish faith was verified by the Aleph Institute, authorities violated his rights under the free exercise, establishment and equal protection clauses as well as his rights under RLUIPA. The court also permitted him to move ahead with a 1st Amendment retaliation claim.

In Ascencio v. Shane, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98092 (ND OH, Aug. 31, 2011), an Ohio federal district court dismissed an inmate's free exercise objections to authorities' confiscating a Spanish language religious motivational message sent to him. Prison policy bars inmates who speak English from receiving correspondence written in foreign languages.

In Cotton v. Cate, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98766 (ND CA, Aug. 30, 2010), a California federal district court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment in a suit by an inmate who is an adherent of the Shetaut Neter religion who was seeking a Kemetic (raw vegan-organic) diet. The court concluded that various factual questions remain in dispute.

In Gonzales v. Adams, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97706 (WD OK, Aug. 31, 2011), an Oklahoma federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98310, Aug. 9, 2011) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that his request to be furnished a Catholic Bible while he was in administrative segregation was denied.