Prisoner free exercise cases – March 2, 2014

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Yah’Torah v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 346 (NJ App., Feb. 21, 2014), a New Jersey appellate court concluded that  a Jewish inmate had not shown that his free exercise or RLUIPA rights were violated by the refusal of prison authorities to furnish him goat or sheep meat, grape juice, pistachio nuts, cashew nuts, honeydew melon or watermelon, onions, goat cheese, and leeks to celebrate the New Moon festival.

In Santo Mujahid Islaam v. Greco, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21866 (D NJ, Feb. 21, 2014), a New Jersey federal district court allowed an inmate to proceed with his complaint that he was denied the right to attend Muslim Friday prayer services. Other inmates named in the complaint were given the option of joining the action upon payment of filing fees.

In Toppin v. Kornegay, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21888 (E.D.N.C. Feb. 21, 2014), a North Carolina federal district court rejected a Native American inmate’s claim that a search of his cell involving handling of his sacred items box violated his free exercise rights.

In Lizama v. Hendricks, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22955 (D NJ, Feb. 20, 2014), a New Jersey federal district court dismissed without prejudice an inmate’s complaint that one of the defendants failed to provide him with his kosher meal.

In Winder v. Maynard, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23038 (D MD, Feb. 24, 2014), a Maryland federal district court dismissed a complaint by a Wiccan inmate that his celebration of the Samhain Feast was impaired when authorities refused to allow Wiccans to prepare and serve pork products through the prison kitchen facilities.

In Johnson v. Lowry, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23216 (ND IN, Feb. 21, 2014), an Indiana federal district court permitted a Native American inmate to move ahead with his free exercise and RLUIPA injunctive action challenging the prison’s refusal to allow him to possess various religious items in his cell and to have group services.


In Buckner v. Allen, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22695 (MD AL, Feb. 24, 2014), an Alabama federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23724, Feb. 3, 2014) and dismissed a complaint by a Native American inmate alleging denial of tobacco use during religious ceremonies, interruption of ceremonies, limited use of fires and sweat lodge, allowance of gang members on ceremonial grounds, and the chaplain’s desecration of religious items by touching them.

In Davis v. Pierce, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25030 (SD TX, Feb. 27, 2014), a Texas federal magistrate judge rejected Native American inmates’ challenges to the ban on inmates smoking the ceremonial pipe, infrequent Native American religious services, the grooming policy and the ban on medicine bags outside of cells.

In Hodges v. Sharon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25453 (ED CA, Feb. 26, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge permitted a Messianic Jewish inmate to proceed with his free exercise, RLUIPA and equal protection claims alleging denial of various religious practices, including weekly services and holiday celebrations.

In Godbey v. Wilson, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25436 (ED VA, Feb. 26, 2014), a Virginia federal district court dismissed complaints by an inmate who is an Asatru adherent that he is not allowed to drink alcoholic mead during religious ceremonies or wear his hlath (headband with symbols on it) outside the prison chapel.

In Begnoche v. Derose, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25580 (MD PA, Feb. 28, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court refused to dismiss a Native American inmate’s free exercise claims against 3 defendants alleging that they failed to provide him with a spiritual advisor, denied him religious items such as prayer feathers and denied him a special food tray during the Green Corn feast celebration.

In Free v. Garcia, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25128 (WD OK, Feb. 27, 2014), an Oklahoma federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26100, Feb. 14, 2014) and dismissed claims (some with and some without prejudice) that an inmate who is a House of Yahweh adherent did not receive his requested religious meals. A motion to amend the complaint was referred back to the magistrate judge.