Prisoner free exercise cases – December 09, 2012

Howard Friedman. Religion Clause

In Kramer v. Pollard, (7th Cir., Dec. 5, 2012), the 7th Circuit rejected an Odinist inmate’s claim for damages on qualified immunity grounds. At issue were claimed free exercise and equal protection violations growing out of the refusal to allow group worship for Odinists separate from other Pagan groups. However the court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff’s religious diet claim.

In Riddick v. Herlock2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171855 (ED VA, Nov. 30, 2012), a Virginia federal district court deferred ruling on dismissal of an inmate’s claim that his copy of the Qur’an was confiscated so plaintiff could amend his complaint.

In People ex rel. Day v New York State Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision, (NY Supr. Ct., Nov. 30, 2012), a New York trial court held that an inmate was denied due process when his parole violation hearing was held in abstentia, but the reason for his absence was his Muslim Friday religious observance.

In Johnson v. Director VDOC2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173203 (WD VA, Dec. 6, 2012), a Virginia federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that the Department of Corrections banned his “Nuwaupian Moorish” religion and therefore he cannot have religious DVDs or CDs in DOC facilities.

In Benton v. Yon2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173197 (ND FL, Dec. 6, 2012), a Florida federal district court, rejecting a magistrate’s recommendation (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173196, Oct. 22, 2012) that plaintiff be permitted to proceed on most of his claims, dismissed on qualified immunity grounds an inmate’s complaint that his free exercise and equal protection rights were infringed when a correctional officer tore and crumbled pages in plaintiff’s Qur’an and drenched his prayer rug with water, apparently out of bias toward Muslims.  According to the court: “no authoritative court has decided—as a broad principle—that a correctional officer’s disrespectful treatment of an inmate’s religious property … was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments even when, as in this case, there is no allegation that such treatment burdened the inmate’s ability to practice his religion.”

In Forter v. Geer, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54400 (D OR, April 17, 2012), an Oregon federal district court dismissed an inmate’s free exercise and RLUIPA complaint regarding withholding from him of certain Christian Identity material sent to him. The court also dismissed without prejudice other claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. [This case while several months old was not previously covered by Religion Clause.]