Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Vinning-El v. Evans, (7th Cir., Sept. 16, 2011), the 7th Circuit dismissed a claim for supervisory liability against a rison warden on plaintiff's claim that as a Moorish Science adherent, he should be entitled to a vegan diet. The court remanded the question of whether the prison chaplain had qualified immunity in connection with the denial, holding that the issue depended on whether the chaplain's denial was based on a good faith finding of insincerity of plaintiff's religious belief, or was instead based on the conclusion that the Moorish Science religion does not make a vegan diet a tenet of its faith.

In Hopkins v. Apadaca, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99145 (WD PA, Sept. 2, 2011),  a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101806, Aug. 3, 2011) and dismissed a claim by an inmate, who for religious reasons was a vegetarian, who complained that he had high cholesterol but was kept on a high cholesterol diet that included peanut butter.

In Lewis v. Snyder, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102520 (ND IL, Sept. 12, 2011), an Illinois federal district court rejected constitutional and statutory challenges by a Nazarite inmate to the requirement that he cut his hair rather than wear his hair in dreadlocks. The court also rejected complaints that his cut dreadlocks were not returned to him and that he could not participate in religious feasts because he had no religious designation on his identification card.

In Gaston v. Redmon, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102462 (ED CA, Sept. 11, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's claim that his free exercise rights were violated when an officer refused to place a gold chain and medallion taken from him on a property form.

In Ciempa v. Jones, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102580 (ND CA, Sept. 9, 2011), a California federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that his rights under RLUIPA were violated when he was not permitted to possess the book Stoic Warriors. However, the court ordered prison officials to submit a plan that would allow space and time in the prison chapel for the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths to engage in religious exercise, or else to demonstrate to the court that a total ban is necessary for institutional security.

In Shabazz v. Virginia Department of Corrections, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102194 (ED VA, Sept. 8, 2011), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a number of plaintiffs who had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as to complaints that Nation of Islam prisoners were being denied access to various religious activities and rights. The court ordered defendants to respond as to exhaustion on one plaintiff's claims.

In Parks v. Smith, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102453 (ND NY, Sept. 9, 2011), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102460, March 29, 2011) and dismissed RLUIPA and free exercise claims by an inmate who was barred from sending out a photo to a personal ad service. The court held that authorities had a compelling interest and used the least restrictive means in preventing the inmate from mailing a photo of himself wearing red pants and making a hand gesture that resembled one used by the Bloods gang, even though the inmate claimed it was a religious meditation gesture.

In Barros v. Minnick, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103827 (ED CA, Sept. 13, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge found inadequate allegations to support a free exercise claim in an inmate's charge that defendants disposed of a cassette tape Bible recording belonging to him.

In Mitchell v. Cate, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103843 (ED CA, Sept. 13, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge allowed an inmate to proceed against some of the defendants he named on a claim that his rights were infringed by keeping him from all participation in religious activity during his 8 months of administrative segregation.

In Daniels v. Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103891 (WD LA, Sept. 14, 2011), a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103905, Aug. 23, 2011) and dismissed as frivolous free exercise and equal protection claims by a Muslim inmate. Plaintiff contended that there are no call-outs for Muslims to pray on Fridays, but there are Christian call-outs. He also alleged that Christian inmates receive Bibles without charge from preachers, but Muslim inmates can obtain copies of the Qur'an only by purchasing them.

In Zimmerman v. Jones, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103714 (D CO, Sept. 14, 2011), a Colorado federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103592, May 26, 2011) and dismissed plaintiff's complaints regarding sub-par kosher meals and a lack of Jewish supplies.

In Griffin v. Alexander, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104000 (ND NY, Sept. 14, 2011), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104905, Aug. 25, 2011), and dismissed an inmate's free exercise and RLUIPA challenge to denial of parole. The court however gave plaintiff permission to refile the challenge as a habeas corpus petition. At issue was plaintiff's claim that the parole board wanted him to enter a sex offender treatment program that would require him to falsely admit a sexual act he did not commit in violation of his religious obligation as a Jehovah's Witness not to lie. The court found that this claim, as currently pleaded, lacked merit.