Friday, June 19, 2015

9th Circuit Rejects Inmate's RLUIPA Claim For Racially Segregated Cell

In Walker v. Beard, (9th Cir., June 18, 2015), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an Aryan Christian Odinist prison inmate's claim that under RLUIPA he should be exempt from being classified as eligible for placement in a racially mixed cell-- just as inmates who have a history of perpetrating or being victimized by racial violence are exempted. Here inmate Dennis Walker claimed that part of his Odinist religious practice is "the spiritual circle of Odinist Warding" ritual. The presence of a non-Aryan in his cell during the ritual would pollute the spiritual circle.  The court held that even though "the racially eligible classification  under the Housing Policy substantially burdens his religious exercise," the state has a compelling interest in complying with constitutional requirements barring racial segregation in prisons, and its actions were the least restrictive means to further this compelling interest.  The court added:
it is possible to imagine how the State might have maintained its race-neutral celling policy and offered an accommodation to Walker – for example, by giving him time outside his cell to perform the warding ritual by himself. But Walker never asked for such relief, nor has he given any indication that he would accept anything short of being assigned a white cellmate. The State has no additional obligation under RLUIPA independently to research and propose every possible way of mitigating that practice’s negative effects.... If Walker wants time outside his cell to perform the ritual, he needs to ask for it. If the State were to refuse him, that might be the basis for a separate RLUIPA challenge, but it does not bear on the challenge here, which is to the application of the Housing Policy to him without an exemption.
The court also rejected Walker's 1st Amendment free exercise argument.  Sacramento Bee reports on the decision.