Prisoner free exercise cases – December 11, 2017

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Wilcox v. Brown, (4th Cir, Dec. 5, 2017), the 4th Circuit, reversing the district court in large part, held that an inmate had adequately stated a free exercise claim for denial of Rastafarian group religious services.

In Butts v. Martin, (5th Cir., Dec. 8, 2017), the 5th Circuit held that the district court had improperly dismissed a Jewish inmate’s free exercise and retaliation claims growing out of a dispute about his wearing his yarmulke at a dinner.

In Ross v. Sandoval, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 198670 (D NV, Dec. 4, 2017), a Nevada federal district court allowed a Buddhist inmate to move ahead with his claim that he was denied a vegetable/ plant based diet.

In Cousins v. Lassiter, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 198816 (WD NC, Dec. 4, 2017), a North Carolina federal district court allowed a Rastafarian inmate who is seeking a vegan diet to move ahead with his challenge to regulations that bar him from changing his diet more than once each 90 days.

In Huapaya v. Davey, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 199128 (ED CA, Dec. 1, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge gave a Muslim inmate who claimed he was being prevented from attending religious services 30 days to file an amended complaint alleging a resultant substantial burden.

In Mixon v. Tyson, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 199188 (ED CA, Dec. 4, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge rejected an inmate’s free exercise claim since he was permitted to put on a jump suit when he objected to appearing in his underwear before women.

In West v. Phelps, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 199301 (D DE, Dec. 4, 2017), a Delaware federal district court rejected free exercise claims by an inmate who practices the religion of Thelema. Plaintiff claimed he needed a healthy kosher diet; sexual relations with a female to perform a worship rite; and Tarot cards.  He also claimed that his prison job amounted to a form of slavery that violates his religious beliefs.

In Faber v. Smith, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 201243 (WD MI, Dec. 7, 2017), a Michigan federal district court held that a Bivens action is not available for a free exercise claim.

In Dawson v. Beard, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 201955 (ED CA, Dec. 7, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate’s claim that he was denied access to religious services and the right to fast.

In Thomas v. Bzoskie, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 201959 (D MN, Dec. 6, 2017), a Minnesota federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 202511, Oct. 30, 2017) and dismissed on res judicata grounds an inmate’s free-exercise and equal-protection claims regarding Islamic gatherings, access to worship materials, and unequal treatment. It also refused to hear related state claims.

In Hunter v. Corrections Corporation of America, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 199955 (SD GA, Dec.5, 2017), a Georgia federal district court held that a religious program run at a private prison violates the Establishment Clause and awarded plaintiff $1 in nominal damages.