Prisoner free exercise cases – September 15, 2013

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Washington v. Gonyea, (2d Cir., Sep. 10, 2013), the 2nd Circuit held that RLUIPA does not provide a cause of action for damages against state officials in their individual capacities because the legislation was enacted pursuant to Congress’ spending power that allows the imposition of conditions, such as individual liability, only on those actually receiving the state funds. In a second summary opinion in the case issued the same day, the court affirmed the denial of plaintiff’s due process claim and reversed dismissal of his First Amendment claim of retaliation for giving a copy of a Qur’an to a prison employee.

In Lofton v. St. Clair County Jail, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127975 (SD IL, Sept. 9, 2013), an Illinois federal district court dismissed, with leave to file an amended complaint, an inmate’s allegation that his ree exercise rights were infringed when he was allowed to attend only one religious service during his two-month confinement in jail.


In Carr v. Noble, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128163 (SD OH, Sept. 9, 2013), an Ohio federal magistrate judge permitted an inmate to proceed with his claims against certain defendants alleging denial of his requests that the Christian Separatist religion be recognized and that Christian Separatist literature be made available to inmates in the chapel library, and complaining that Christian Separatist CDs were withheld and he was not permitted to donate them to the chapel library.

In Wilson v. Wetzel, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128423 (MD PA, Sept. 9, 2013), a Pennsylvania federal district court allowed a Hebrew Israelite inmate to proceed against two correctional officers with his complaint that the disciplinary food loaf sanction imposed on him should have been suspended for the holy fast day of Gedaliah and he should have been  provided with a Kosher food bag for that day.

In Bogard v. Perkins, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128892 (ND MI, Sept. 9, 2013), a Mississippi federal district court held that an inmate claiming to be a member of the Nazarite religious faith has no right under the 1st Amendment or RLUIPA to wear his hear in dreadlocks in violation of the Department of Corrections grooming policy.


In Diggs v. Volpe, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111365 (SD NY, Aug. 7, 2013), a New York federal district court dismissed a suit by a Muslim inmate who complained that he could not attend Friday Jumu’ah services while he was in disciplinary confinement.


In Cox v. Stephens, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129513 (SD TX, Sept. 11, 2013), a Texas federal district court modified a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129806, July 15, 2013) and permitted a Native American inmate to proceed on various claims against a prison official who violated departmental policy by denying adequate personnel to preside over religious pipe ceremonies, and to proceed with challenges to prison grooming policies and rules regarding possession of his medicine bag.

In Coleman v. Ryan, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129774 (D AZ, Sept. 11, 2013), an Arizona federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his complaint that corrections officers wrongfully confiscated his rosary.

In Frost v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130278 (D SC, Sept. 12, 2013), a South Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2103 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130487, Aug. 9, 2013) and dismissed a Muslim inmate’s complaints regarding the number of Shia imams, confiscation of a Qur’an, prohibition of Muslim inmates using empty cells for daily prayers and requiring inmates to arrive at a certain time to attend the Jumu’ah service.

In Brooks v. State of Hawaii, 2013 U.S. Dist LEXIS 130635 (D AZ, Sept. 8, 2013), an Arizona federal district court dismissed without prejudice a free exercise claim by an inmate who studied both Christianity and Islam, and who was removed from a voluntary Christian-based housing unit.   However he was allowed to proceed with a retaliation claim.

In Mauwee v. Nevada Department of Corrections, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131250 (D NV, Sept. 13, 2013), a Nevada federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131378, June 26, 2013) and dismissed a complaint by a Native American inmate that the Department of Corrections had ended a prior policy permitting access to raw foods for preparation of a ceremonial meal during the sweat lodge ceremony.