Prisoner free exercise cases – September 12, 2016

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Begnoche v. Derose, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119747 (MD PA, Sept. 2, 2016), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed an inmate’s claim that the Therapeutic Community program involved religious content and interfered with his ability to practice his Native American religious beliefs.

In Shakur v. Thomas, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119767 (ND NY, Sept. 6, 2016), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72707, June 2, 2016)(see prior posting), finding a plausible showing that an inmate’s position as a Muslim Shia inmate facilitator is protected 1st Amendment speech or conduct for purposes of a retaliation claim. The court also adopted uncontested recommendations that plaintiff be allowed to move ahead with various claims of denial of Ramadan and festival meals and participation in congregational prayer.

In Espinosa v. Stogner, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120646 (D NV, Sept. 6, 2016), a Nevada federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that prison authorities violated the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses by refusing to recognize his “secular/religious Humanism” as an accepted faith group. However the court granted plaintiff leave to amend his complaint to allege “how his brand of humanism differs from tradition secular moral philosophy in a way sufficient to qualify as a religion under the Free Exercise Clause.”

In Wilson v. Avertest, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121593 (MD PA, Sept. 7, 2016), a Pennsylvania federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal of free exercise and 4th Amendment complaints by plaintiff who under a house arrest and alcohol monitoring program was required to undergo a below-the-waist strip search.  Plaintiff claimed that his Jewish faith requires that he “not to bare his nakedness for any unnecessary reason.”

In Wilkes v. Hunter, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121707 (ND CA, Sept. 8, 2016), a California federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, plaintiff’s claim that jail deputies refused to allow him to bring a Christian cross into jail.

In Brown v. Mohr, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122292 (SD OH, Sept. 9, 2016), an Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended refusing to dismiss a Jewish inmate’s claim that he was denied a kosher diet for 10 weeks, but recommended dismissing his complaint that he was housed in a cell with a neo-Nazi inmate.