Prisoner free exercise cases – Installment 2 for the week – March 31, 2015

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Epps v. Grannis, (9th Cir., March 27, 2015), the 9th Circuit upheld the district court’s dismissal of a Muslim inmate’s complaints regarding lack of a kosher diet, the prison’s package policy, lack of a Muslim chaplain, failure to allow him to worship in a group setting following a prison riot in 2008; failure to deliver his Ramadan package in 2008; and confiscation of his religious books in 2010, which were returned in 2012.

In Williams v. GEO Group, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37094 (MD GA, March 25, 2015), a Georgia federal magistrate judge recommended permitting a Rastafarian inmate to proceed with his free exercise and RLUIPA complaints that he was required to shave in violation of his Nazerite vow.

In Altman v. Palmer, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37555 (ND IA, March 25, 2015), an Iowa federal district court rejected a claim by a civilly committed sex offender that his free exercise rights were infringed when he was not permitted to travel to attend the church in the town in which his family resided.

In Spigelman v. Samuels, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38147 (ED KY, March 26, 2015), a Kentucky federal district court dismissed a Jewish inmate’s complaint that his use of tefillin was restricted while he was in the prison’s special housing unit.

In Hart v. Shearin, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38189 (D MD, March 26, 2015), a Maryland federal district court upheld a prison’s policy of limiting or cancelling religious services for problem inmates during a period of institutional lock-down. Inmates could have access to a chaplain and a religious TV video. Plaintiff’s motion to file an amended complaint indicating that he had no TV and needed to see a chaplain was granted.

In Freeman v. Budnick, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38613 (ED AR, March 26, 2015), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38618, March 4, 2015) and dismissed a complaint by an Odinist inmate that while in punitive isolation he was denied various items needed to practice his religion such as a Thor’s hammer, a set of runes and rune cloth, an Odinist text, an altar and altar cloth and a wooden statue.

In Scott v. Erdogan, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38739, (M.D. Pa. Mar. 25, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court concluded that factual issues for trial exist as to a Sunni Muslim inmate’s complaint that there were only Wahhabi/Salafi services conducted and his RLUIPA complaint about the timing of Ramadan prayer.  A number of other complaints about infringements of his religious practices were dismissed.

In Cox v. Stephens, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39051 (SD TX, March 27, 2015), a Texas federal district court dismissed a Native American inmate’s challenge to the Texas grooming policy that prohibits him from growing his hair, the religious objects policy that prohibits him from wearing his medicine bag at all times, and the pipe policy prohibiting him from partaking in the communal pipe. They were found to be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest.