Sunday, December 08, 2019

Prison's Denial of Access To Religious Services As Discipline Is Invalid

In Greenhill v. Clarke, (4th Cir., Dec. 6, 2019),the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held that, absent further justification, a prison disciplinary policy which denied a Muslim inmate television access to view weekly Jum'ah services violates his free exercise rights protected by RLUIPA and the 1st Amendment. The court said in part:
The VDOC’s Step-Down Program appears to be a sophisticated, well-conceived program to better inmates’ behavior and their confinement, as well as to improve safety and the overall operation of the prison. But holding inmates’ religious exercise hostage to incentivize their participation in the Program is impermissible under RLUIPA. Access to bona fide religious exercise is not a privilege to be dangled as an incentive to improve inmate conduct, and placing such religious exercise in the category of privilege to be earned is fundamentally inconsistent with the right to religious exercise that RLUIPA guarantees to prisoners.....
The court also held that the prison's grooming policy that precludes growing of a 4-inch beard imposes a substantial burden on the Muslim inmate's religious exercise. [Thanks to Will Esser via Religionlaw for the lead.]