Prisoner free exercise cases – April 07, 2013

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Lewis v. Sternes, (7th Cir., March 28. 2013), the 7th Circuit affirmed an Illinois federal district court’s rejection of a complaint by an inmate who was a member of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. Plaintiff claimed that his free exercise rights were violated by authorities’ insistence that he cut his dreadlocks because they pose a security risk.

In Watkins v. Haynes, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43881 (SD GA, March 27, 2013), a Georgia federal district court adopted only in part a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 187476, Aug. 23, 2012) in a claim by  a Rastafarian inmate that he was denied a religious diet. The court rejected a statute of limitations defense but dismissed the suit on qualified immunity grounds.

In Guillory v. Fischer, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43986 (ND NY, March 28, 2013), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43981, March 7, 2013) and permitted a Jewish inmate to move ahead with complaints that he was prevented from observing the Fast of Tammu and the festival of Sukkot.

In Crump v. Prelesnik, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45126 (WD MI, March 29, 2013), a Michigan federal district court, agreeing with the conclusions of a federal magistrate judge (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46666, Feb. 13, 2013), and dismissed a Muslim inmate’s complaint that he was not permitted to participate in Friday group prayer without signing the prison’s form declaring he is a Muslim.

In Handy v. Diggins, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45561 (D CO, March 29, 2013), a Colorado federal district court rejected in part a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45542, Feb. 26, 2013) and permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed with his claim that his free exercise rights were infringed when prison authorities denied him a kosher diet.


In Thomas v. Lawler, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44281 (MD PA, March 28, 2013), a Pennsylvania federal district court granted certain discovery requests by a physically disabled Muslim inmate who was suing claiming he is forced to climb five flights of stairs for Muslim worship in a chapel with insufficient space and without a restroom. The discovery requests granted were ones relating to past 1st Amendment violations by defendant prison authorities.

In Coleman v. Jabe, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41421 (WD VA, March 25, 2013), a Salafi Muslim inmate alleged dozens of infringement of his religious rights. A Virginia federal district court dismissed all of the claims except “his RLUIPA claims for injunctive and declaratory relief regarding the compact-disc policy, the prayer-oil policy (only as it relates to purchasing the oil from Keefe Commissary), the halal-diet policy, and the Salafism policy.” The federal magistrate’s recommendations in the case are at 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 187385, Dec. 26, 2012.

In Gambino v. Payne, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46576 (WD NY, March 28, 2013), a New York federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, a complaint by a Jewish inmate that, as a pre-trial detainee, his kosher meals were mutilated, smashed, shaken and contaminated with pubic hair on a daily basis.

In Jones v. Conrad, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44534 (ED AR, March 28, 2013), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44535, Feb. 15, 2013) and dismissed a complaint by an inmate that his rights were violated when he was denied swastika mail sent to him, and when he was denied a receipt of “Islam in History” because it was shipped in the same package as a prohibited book titled “Pornoland.”