Prisoner free exercise cases – March 03, 2013

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Williams v. Fisher, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23275 (ND NY, Feb. 20. 2013), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24560, Jan. 29, 2013) and refused to dismiss a complaint by a Nazarite Jewish inmate that his religious dietary needs were not being met.

In Elder v. Scolapia, (WV Sup. Ct., Feb. 22, 2013), the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rejected claims by petitioner who was sentenced to home incarceration after pleading guilty to sexual abuse and assault charges that his rights were infringed when the trial court denied his request to attend religious services at a specific church.


In Smith v. Owens, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22722 (MD GA, Feb. 20, 2013), a Georgia federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25428, Jan. 15, 2013) and permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed with his claim for injunctive relief under RLUIPA.  Plaintiff claims that the Georgia prison grooming policy violates his rights by not permitting him to grow a beard for religious purposes. Other claims by plaintiff were dismissed.

In Rogers v. Giurbino, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26293 (SD CA, Feb. 26, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed an inmate’s claim that suspension of Protestant group prayer services, fellowship and ministry classes during the prison lock downs violated his rights under RLUIPA.

In Toland v. Williams, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26198 (SD GA, Feb. 26, 2013), a Georgia federal magistrate judge permitted an inmate to proceed with his claim that he did not receive the restricted vegan diet demanded by his religious beliefs.

In Mills v. McGarry, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26953 (SD WV, Feb. 26, 2013), a West Virginia federal district court, rejecting a magistrate’s recommendation (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186457, Dec. 11, 2012), permitted a Hare Krishna inmate to proceed with his motion for an emergency preliminary injunction under RLUIPA challenging a policy that required him to waive his medical diet in order to receive a diet that comported with his religious beliefs. Agreeing with the magistrate’s other recommendations, the court dismissed plaintiff’s 1st and 8th amendment and state constitutional claims, saying in part that: “giving a prisoner daily sustenance whose quality comports with the overwhelming majority of society’s standards, but of a nature that does not fully comport with a prisoner’s religious beliefs” does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

In Rutherford v. Hines, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24255 (D SC, Feb. 22, 2013), a South Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26312, Jan. 31, 2013) and dismissed an inmate’s free exercise claims regarding not receiving a pork-free diet while a pre-trial detainee.

In Duwenhoegger v. King, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23498 (D MN, Feb. 21, 2013), a Minnesota federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25255, Jan. 28, 2013), and dismissed an inmate’s complaint that he was not permitted to send or receive mail using the honorific title “Pastor,” and was denied participation in a correspondence Bible studies course while he was in segregation. The court also rejected a large number of complaints about other aspects of plaintiff’s confinement.

In Bramlett v. Ligget, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27374 (SD IL, Feb. 28, 2013), an Illinois federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with claims that the correctional center mail room supervisor interfered with his receiving gospel tracts and a religious enrollment form that had been sent to him.

In Cooke v. United States Bureau of Prisons, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26947 (D NC, Feb. 27, 2013), a North Carolina federal district court allowed inmates, who were confined to wheel chairs, to proceed with complaints under RFRA and the 1st Amendment that unlike detainees without disabilities they cannot access the religious library or outdoor pagan worship area at their correctional facility.

In Hughes v. Heimgartner, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26727 (D KA, Feb. 27, 2013), a Kansas federal district court, while dismissing a number of claims, permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead with claims for declaratory and injunctive relief under RLUIPA and the 1st Amendment in a suit alleging that while in segregation he had been denied the Halal meal for Eid  ul Fitr that was available to other Muslim inmates.

In Maldonado v. Yates, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27163 (ED CA, Feb. 26, 2013), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal of an inmate’s complaint that under prison rules he is not allowed to attend religious services of more than one religious group, and that he was denied a kosher diet that he says is better for his health and mental disability. The court said in part: “Plaintiff appears to seek the option to sample whatever religion suits his interest, which is not the purpose of the rights protected by the Free Exercise Clause.”