Prisoner free exercise cases – April 26, 2015

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In West v. Grams, (7th Cir., April 22, 2015), the 7th Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal on mootness grounds of a Muslim inmate’s RLUIPA claim. While the inmate had been transferred to another institution, the challenged policy of allowing religious services only if an outside volunteer is available to lead them is a system-wide policy.

In Holtz v. Pierce County, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52453 (WD WA, April 20. 2015), a Washington federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52448, April 1, 2015) and dismissed a number of claims by a Muslim inmate. Numerous claims were dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Claims relating to Halal meat and dessert; purchase of Kosher food; non-recorded visitations; threat and inappropriate language regarding religion by an officer; and conditions of housing unit regarding prayer were dismissed with prejudice.

In Desmond v. Phelps, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52657 (D DE, April 22, 2015), a Delaware federal district court severed into three separate suits a case in which a number of inmates representing 3 different religions (Islam, Catholicism, Judaism) complained about availability of religious services.

In Allah v. Colorado Department of Corrections, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52792 (D CO, April 22, 2015), a Colorado federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate’s complaint that after he had legally changed his name to a religious name, prison authorities only allowed him to use that as an a.k.a. along with name under which he was originally committed.

In Montague v. Schofield, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53208 (ED TN, April 22, 2015), a Tennessee federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that religious programs have been curtailed and that Muslim inmates are allowed to purchase prayer oil only from a single vendor, but with general leave to amend because class action status had been denied for these and numerous other claims.

In El v. Wehling, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53356 (D NJ, April 23, 2015), a New Jersey federal district court in dealing with a sprawling 537-page complaint raising 49 counts relating to plaintiff’s arrest and his being charged with weapons and drug offenses among other things dismissed plaintiff’s claim that his free exercise rights were infringed when officials used his given name rather than his Moorish name on court papers.

In Barstad v. Wright, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53573 (WD WA, April 23, 2015), a Washington federal magistrate judge recommend dismissing an inmate’s complaint that his free exercise rights were infringed by various mail rejections.

In Kuykendall v. Kennell, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53798 (CD IL, April 24, 2015), an Illinois federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that his requests to change his religious affiliation from Catholic to Messianic Hebrew, then to Judaism, and lastly to Assemblies of Yahweh were not honored to legitimize his requests for a list of Jewish holidays, special religious holiday meals and a Kosher diet.