Prisoner Free Exercise Cases – June 24, 2012

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In McFaul v. Valenzuela, (5th Cir., June 18, 2012), the 5th Circuit rejected a Celtic Druid inmate’s free exercise, equal protection, RLUIPA and Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act challenges to prison rules that barred him from having religious medallions that cost more than $25 and limited him to medallions that prison officials had approved for each religion.

In Zook v. Tucker2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83237 (ND FL, June 14, 2012), a Florida federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83238, April 11, 2012) and dismissed a Muslim inmate’s free exercise, equal protection and RLUIPA challenge to a prison rule barring the wearing of beards except for medical reasons.

In Wright v. Fayram2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84804 (ND IA, June 18, 2012), an Iowa federal magistrate judge concluded that an inmate’s adherence to Nation of Gods and Earths constitutes a sincerely held religious belief entitled to 1st Amendment protection, and that prison authorities are not justified in prohibiting weekly and monthly classes and meetings and group worship. However, because plaintiff is currently the only prisoner at the facility who is an NGE member, his group worship claims are not ripe and should be dismissed.

In Jenner v. Sokol2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85179 (D CO, June 19, 2012), a Colorado federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85137, April 5, 2012) and denied a motion to file an amended complaint as well as denying a preliminary injunction which plaintiff sought to permit him to attend Jewish services within the time prescribed for candle lighting, and to require provision of Jewish faith supplies and books.

In Thomas v. Lawler2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86240 (MD PA, June 21, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court vacated a prior default judgment in a Muslim prisoner’s complaint that he has significant physical disabilities and that prison officials force him to climb five flights of stairs to worship in a chapel with insufficient space and without a restroom.

In Bermea-Cepeda v. Chartier2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85848 (D SC, June 21, 2012), a South Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86646, May 8, 2012) and dismissed an inmate’s complaint that he has been denied use of the prison chapel for Santa Muerte meetings and religious services.