Prisoner free exercise cases – July 12, 2015

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Jehovah v. Clarke, (4th Cir., July 9, 2014), the 4th Circuit reversed a Virginia federal district court’s dismissal of free exercise and RLUIPA claims by an inmate who had a sincere belief in his own version of Christianity based on a version of the Bible he had written. He complained about policies banning consumption of wine during communion, inability to obtain a job that allows him to observe his “Old Jewish” and “New Christic” Sabbaths, and his cell assignment with anti-Christians and unbelievers.

In Harris v. State, 2015 Nev. App. Unpub. LEXIS 282 (NV App., June 2, 2015), a Nevada appeals court affirmed the dismissal of an inmate’s complaint that he was required to give up his medically-necessary low-sodium diet during Ramadan in order to receive Ramadan meals.

In Robinson v. Landry, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87025 (D ME, July 6, 2015), a Maine federal district court dismissed because of mootness and unavailability of damages as relief, a Native American inmate’s complaint growing out of failure to return his medicine bag, denial of smudge materials, and lack of access to Native American services.

In Ryidu-X v. Maryland Division of Corrections, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87683 (D MD, July 6, 2015), a Maryland federal district court held that the brief inability of an inmate to access the prison commissary using his religious name despite a settlement agreement allowing him to do so did not amount to a violation of constitutional magnitude.

In Daywitt v. Minnesota, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87552 (D MN, July 6, 2015), a Minnesota federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87951, June 17, 2015) and permitted plaintiff, an Orthodox Jew who was civilly committed in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to move ahead with his suit for injunctive and declaratory relief regarding the ban on his wearing a suit coat as required by his religious beliefs. His complaint regarding a ban on wearing a yarmulke was dismissed as moot since the policy had been changed. Damage claims against officials were dismissed on qualified immunity grounds.

In Trotter v. Ramsey, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89106 (WD TN, July 9, 2015), a Tennessee federal district court upheld the requirement that all inmate religious services be supervised by an outside religious leader or staff and dismissed a complaint by an inmate who was an approved group Bible study leader that on two occasions he was not allowed to hold Sabbath/Advent Bible study.