Sunday, January 29, 2012

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Watkins v. Donnelly, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6118 (WD OK, Jan. 19, 2012), an Oklahoma federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151825, Dec. 19, 2011) and dismissed on qualified immunity grounds an inmate's complaint that he was denied a religious diet for 3 meals in one day.

In Walker v. California, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6806 (ED CA, Jan. 19, 2012), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's complaint that he was denied parole for failure to attend faith-based AA or NA programs.

In Williams v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institutions Division, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8018 (SD TX, Jan. 24, 2012), a Texas federal district court permitted Muslim inmates to proceed with most of their statutory and constitutional religious liberty claims challenging prison officials' interrupting of a Friday Jumah service for a special head count and strip search.  The court pointed out that there is a documented history of discrimination against Muslim inmates by the Texas correctional system as evidenced by a prior consent decree ordering officials to permit Muslim worship services. The court concluded that defendants did not show that allowing the Jumah service to conclude would have jeopardized the effective functioning of the prison.

In Hersey v. Lanigan, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8138 (D NJ, Jan. 23, 2012), a New Jersey federal district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies an inmate's complaint that his request for observance of a Messianic Passover Seder was denied and instead he was provided a Rabbinic Jewish Passover Seder which did not include partaking of a roasted leg of lamb (but only included a lamb shank bone).

In Brown v. Medill, 2012 Kan. App. Unpub. LEXIS 35 (KS App., Jan. 20, 2012), a Kansas state appellate court permitted a Rastafarian inmate who was placed in segregation for refusing to cut his dreadlocks to proceed with his claim for damages for infringement of his free exercise rights and for malicious prosecution (the administrative proceeding that led to his being placed in segregation).  The state's rescission of its grooming policy mooted his claims for equitable relief.

In Wilkins v. Walker, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9307 (SD IL, Jan. 26,2012), an Illinois federal district court permitted a former inmate who is a member of the African Hebrew Israelite faith to proceed with damage claims for violations of the free exercise, establishment and equal protection clauses that allegedly occurred when officials refused to hire an AHI chaplain or furnish plaintiff AHI material. State law claims, federal RLUIPA claims, and a religious diet claim were all dismissed.

In Cole v. Danberg, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9123 (D DE, Jan. 24, 2012), a Delaware federal district court  denied a temporary restraining order against a prison policy that requires Muslim inmates to get rid of their colored kufis and, in the future, wear only white kufis that can be purchased at the prison commissary.