Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Homeless People May Not Be Prosecuted For Sleeping Outdoors When Only Option Is Religious Shelter

In Martin v. City of Boise, (9th Cir., Sept. 4, 2018), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the 8th Amendment bars a city from criminalizing sleeping outdoors on public property when homeless people have no option to sleep indoors, including where their access to a shelter is conditioned on their participating in religious programs.  Two of the city's three shelters are run by Christian organizations.  The court concluded that
River of Life permits individuals to remain at the shelter after 17 days in the Emergency Services Program only on the condition that they become part of the New Life Discipleship program, which has a mandatory religious focus.... There are also facts in dispute concerning whether the Emergency Services Program itself has a religious component....  A city cannot, via the threat of prosecution, coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs consistently with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.... Yet at the conclusion of a 17-day stay at River of Life, or a 30-day stay at City Light, an individual may be forced to choose between sleeping outside on nights when Sanctuary is full (and risking arrest under the ordinances), or enrolling in BRM programming that is antithetical to his or her religious beliefs.
AP reports on the decision.