Sunday, April 10, 2016

2 Particularly Interesting Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

As regular readers of Religion Clause blog know, at least weekly I present a summary of recent prisoner free exercise cases.  This week, two of the recent cases deserve more mention than my typical brief description:

In Brown v. Bureau of Prisons2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44755 (D CT, March 31, 2016), a Connecticut federal district court dismissed a female federal prisoner's 1st Amendment claim, but allowed her to move ahead on her claim under RFRA that her rights were infringed when she was searched by a male correctional officer.  This suit is unusual because it was filed by a female inmate.  For reasons I have been unable to explain, almost all reported prisoner free exercise cases are filed by male inmates.  Perhaps it is related to differences in the way that women's prisons are administered.  If readers have other explanations, I would appreciate receiving them.

In McLenithan v. Williams, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45290 (D OR, April 4, 2016), an Oregon federal magistrate judge dismissed RLUIPA, free exercise and equal protection claims by an inmate seeking a kosher diet. Plaintiff described himself as a Seventh Day Adventist who practices Judaism as a second religion.  The court's RLUIPA analysis included the following:
Defendants have presented evidence establishing a compelling interest in limiting kosher diets to Jewish inmates, and this policy, in conjunction with ODOC's accommodation of traditional Seventh Day Adventist dietary practices, is the least restrictive means of meeting that interest. The evidence is undisputed that providing kosher meals costs $4,117.20 more per biennium for each additional inmate who requests kosher food. To be sure, the cost of accommodating Plaintiff alone is not significant. However, if Plaintiff were to be accommodated by providing the kosher meal option, other inmates will likely have to be accommodated as well, ultimately at great expense to ODOC. Indeed, Defendants provide evidence that if non-Jewish inmates were allowed the option of choosing the kosher meal plan, a substantial percentage would likely do so. Finally, the Court considers the substantial additional cost of providing kosher meals to non-Jewish inmates in the context of ODOC's overall budget.  Defendants provide evidence that ODOC's security budget is strained.
This analysis raises the question of whether compelling interest is measured differently when the government's interest is cost rather than security.  In Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court required compelling interest in security be measured by looking only at the "particular claimant" whose religious exercise is being burdened.