Prisoner free exercise cases – February 9, 2014

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Wall v. Wade, (4th Cir., Feb. 3, 2014), the 4th Circuit vacated a Virginia federal district court’s dismissal of damage claims and held that it is unconstitutional for a prison to condition inmates’ participation in Ramadan observances on their providing some physical indicia of Islamic faith, such as a Quran, Kufi, prayer rug, or written religious material obtained from the prison Chaplain’s office.

In Holtz v. Karr, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12519 (WD WA, Jan. 23, 2014), a Washington federal magistrate judge recommended that a Muslim inmate be permitted to proceed with his claims against the county alleging that jail policies interfere with his ability to practice Islam and are religiously discriminatory. Plaintiff’s complaint covers religious living units, diet, and religious dress, items and prayer.

In Stevens v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12586 (MD PA, Jan. 31, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13098, Jan. 14, 2014) and dismissed claims by a Native American inmate for $1 billion in damages for crushing his spirits; a “review of all religious freedoms towards Native American[s]”; and a written apology published in a newspaper after he did not hear his name called out for the Hoop worship service.

In Mitchell v. Fox, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13845 (ED WA, Feb. 4, 2014), a Washington federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate’s complaint that his copy of the Qur’an was damaged and later taken and that two prayer books were taken during a search. He could have obtained another copy of the Qur’an from the chaplain.

In Gray v. Lewis, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13899 (ND CA, Feb. 4, 2014), a California federal district court permitted an inmate who was a follower of the Yahweh religion to move ahead with his complaint that he was denied kosher meals.

In Fowler v. CDCR, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13922 (ED CA, Feb. 3, 2014) and Nible v. CDCR, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13924 (ED CA, Feb. 4, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend complaints by inmates that they were deprived of outdoor worship space chapel access, religious items and funds to practice the Asatru/Odinic religion, while mainstream religions were supported. 

In Palermo v. New Hampshire State Prison, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14096 (D NH, Feb. 4, 2014), a New Hampshire federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his complaint that prison officials refused to recognize his religion; provide him with religious items or a religious diet; or allow him to receive religious posters or attend group worship. 

In Ali v. Stephens, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14460 (ED TX, Feb. 4, 2014), a Texas federal magistrate judge granted a Muslim inmate a TRO and preliminary injunction allowing him to wear a one-quarter inch beard, but denied a TRO and preliminary injunction on his request to wear a full beard and to wear his kufi cap throughout the prison at all times. 

In Reiske v. Bruno, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14696 (D CT, Feb. 6, 2014), a Connecticut federal district court refused to grant an inmate who is a second degree Wicca priest a TRO or preliminary injunction to require prison authorities to recognize his Wicca religion and allow him to purchase various religious items such as candles, oils, bowls and rope.

In Fox v. Stephens, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15272 (SD TX, Feb. 6, 2014), a Texas federal district court dismissed an inmate’s free exercise claims because they were not appropriately raised by a habeas corpus action and because the suit is subject to the 3-strike bar for frivolous in forma pauperis litigation.