Prisoner free exercise cases – January 11, 2015

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Davila v. Gladden, (11th Cir., Jan. 9, 2015), the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 31-page opinion reversed a district court’s dismissal of a claim for injunctive relief under RFRA by a federal prisoner who is a Santeria priest.  He was not allowed to have his goddaughter bring him his set of personal Santeria beads and Cowrie shells. The court said that “the prison has offered no evidence to justify its cost and safety concerns.”  The Court however affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s 1st Amendment claims and his damage claims under RFRA.

In  Mobley v. Coleman, 2015 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 15 (PA Commnwlth. Ct., Jan. 6, 2015), a Pennsylvania trial court rejected an inmate’s claim that the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection Clause were violated when a prison provided Sunni Muslim congregational services while not providing similar Nation of Islam services.

In Williams v. Nish, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1159 (MD PA, Jan. 7, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed complaints by a Native American inmate that he and others were forced to conduct prayer and smudging ceremonies outdoors in cold or adverse weather and that Three Sisters seeds used as ceremonial relics were destroyed and not replaced.

In Shaw v. Georgia, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1484 (SD GA, Jan. 7, 2014), a Georgia federal magistrate judge permitted an inmate to proceed with his 1st and 8th Amendment claims based on his complaint that he has suffered serious health problems from the denial of a nutritionally adequate diet that complies with his religious beliefs.

In Mutawakkil v. Hamblin, 2015 Wisc. App. LEXIS 6 (WI App., Jan. 8, 2015), a Wisconsin state appeals court affirmed the dismissal of an inmate’s complaint that he was only allowed to use his spiritual name along with the name on his judgment of conviction, while those who had their name changed legally could used their new name alone on correspondence and for various other purposes.

In Hassan v. Whart, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2602 (ED VA, Jan. 9, 2015), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a suit by a former jail inmate who sued for $1 million in damages and injunctive relief because during his 5 weeks in jail he was not able to attend congregate Friday Jumu’ah services.

In Bear v. Dietsch, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2763 (ND IA, Jan. 9, 2014), an Iowa federal district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies inmates’ complaint that while in the Transition Incentive Program they were not permitted to attend community religious services.