Prisoner free exercise cases – September 14, 2014

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Johnson v. Brown, (11th Cir., Sept. 12, 2014), the 11th Circuit reversed an Alabama federal district court’s dismissal at the screening stage of a complaint that Sunnah Muslim inmates’ access to a classroom used as a Masjid for prayer was being limited, their prayer services were being interrupted or cancelled, Eid al-Adha was mishandled and plaintiff was not allowed to wear a kufi.

In Miller v. Lewright, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124584 (ED CA, Sept. 5, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend a complaint by a Native American civil detainee that authorities refused to release to him a spiritual bead necklace that he had ordered from a private vendor.

In Utt v. Brown, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122602 (ED NC, Sept. 3, 2014), a North Carolina federal district court permitted a Wiccan inmate to proceed with his complaint about a policy that tarot cards are only for personal use, confiscation of his homemade religious items, a prohibition on his practicing sacred Esbats and denial of corporate worship.

In Vigil v. Raemisch, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124986 (D CO, Sept. 8, 2014), a Colorado federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124985, Aug. 15, 2014), and dismissed a Native American inmate’s complaint that he was not allowed to wear a Mohawk haircut.

In Henderson v. Hedgpeth, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125315 (ND CA, Sept. 8, 2014), a California federal district court dismissed with partial leave to amend a Muslim inmate’s complaint that authorities failed to provide Muslim prayer services or a full-time chaplain, have not purchased various Muslim religious items (Qurans, prayer rugs, oils, books), have not allowed group breaking of the Ramadan fast or allowed ordering of Halal food.

In Desmond v. Phelps, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126428 (D DE, Sept. 10, 2014), a Delaware federal district court allowed a Jewish inmate to join in a suit by Sunni-Salafi and Catholic inmates raising issues regarding the practice of religion at a Delaware prison. The court denied a preliminary injunction relating to retaliation claims by one of the Catholic plaintiffs.

In Elmore v. Saunders, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126978 (MD NC,Sept. 11, 2014), a North Carolina federal district court denied the free exercise claim of an inmate who alleged that he could not pray during four days in a close observation cell because he was handcuffed and denied water to cleanse himself.

In Cejas v. Myers, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127008 (ED CA, Sept. 10, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with partial leave to amend, a Buddhist inmate’s complaint that Buddhists were denied chapel time while on C-status, and failed to fill a vacant chaplain position.

In Walters v. Livingston, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127630 (WD TX, Sept. 12, 2014), a Texas federal magistrate judge dismissed on various grounds claims by a Native American inmate (who now has been released after completing his sentence) that he was wrongly transferred to a non-Native American unit after he was disciplined and not provided accommodations to practice his faith there. Defendants’ counterclaim for attorneys’ fees was also dismissed.