Prisoner free exercise cases – April 27, 2014

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber, (8th Cir., April 25, 2014), the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that South Dakota correctional officials violated RLUIPA by banning Native American inmates’ use of tobacco for religious purposes. Defendants failed to showthat the tobacco ban is the least restrictive means of furthering their compelling government interest.

In Hoeck v. Timme, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55059 (D CO, April 21, 2014), a Colorado federal district court found no merit in an inmate’s challenge to his conviction in a habeas proceeding complaining that his court appointed counsel would only meet with him between Friday sunset and Saturday sunset, the Sabbath for petitioner.

In Merrick v. Ryan, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55738 ( AZ, April 17, 2014), an Arizona federal district court remanded to state court a suit in which an inmate, under his complaint as amended, claimed that the denial of religious materials violated Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.  In his amended complaint he removed all references to federal law.

In Gunderson v. Pharis, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55431 (ND IL, April 22, 2014), an Illinois federal district court dismissed on the basis of Younger abstention claims of plaintiff, a Hindu, that he was denied conjugal visits and was given inadequate time for yoga, all of which burdened his religious practices.  Plaintiff is being held at a mental health facility under an ongoing treatment plan after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. The court also dismissed on the merits plaintiffs complaint that he did not have access to an appropriate Hindu spiritual leader.

In Dodds v. Quintero, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56487 (D CO, April 23, 2014), a Colorado federal district court dismissed discrimination and free exercise claims by an African-American inmate who practices Judaism against a sheriff’s deputy who allegedly greeted plaintiff with the words “Asalam Walakim” while plaintiff was waiting for his kosher breakfast.

In Pouncil v. Tilton, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56786 (ED CA, April 22, 2014), a California federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate to move forward with his claim that his rights under RLUIPA were violated by a rule that barred inmates serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole from having conjugal visits.

In George v. County of Westchester, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57185 (SD NY, April 10, 2014), a New York federal district court permitted a Jewish inmate to move ahead with  his complaint of denial of Jewish congregate religious services and inadequate hot water and microwave oven for preparation of his kosher food.

In Payne v. Duncan, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57335 (MD PA, April 23, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate’s complaint that his free exercise rights were infringed when his books were confiscated and discarded, preventing him from studying his religion.

In JCG v. Ercole, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57417 (SD NY, April 24, 2014), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended that a Messianic Jewish inmate be permitted to move forward with his complaint that the prison’s Jewish chaplain refused to approve kosher meals for him or his attendance at Jewish religious services and Jewish holiday celebrations.