Prisoner free exercise cases – September 30, 2012

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Fistell v. Suthers2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133718 (D CO, Sept. 19, 2012), a Colorado federal district court refused to hold prison authorities in contempt of a prior injunction for their failure to furnish an inmate a kosher meal for breakfast and lunch on one day while the prison was on lock down because of a power outage. Kosher meals had been furnished during numerous other lock downs.

In Rice v. Ramsey2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134284 (ND CA, Sept. 18, 2012), a California federal district court dismissed on the merits an inmate’s complaint that AEM Muslims were refused separate access to the interfaith chapel to conduct classes and their request to hire a full or part time AEM imam was denied.  Plaintiff’s complaint regarding denial of Suhoor meals was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

In Cato v. Ramos2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134163 (WD NY, Sept. 19, 2012), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134150, Aug. 10, 2012) and dismissed an inmate’s claim that a staffer at the prison facility where he was formerly housed interfered with the provision of Rastafarian holy day meals and discriminated against Rastafarian inmates.

In Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133937 (D SD, Sept. 19, 2012), a South Dakota federal district court held that the South Dakota prison system violated RLUIPA when it banned all tobacco, including its use in Native American religious ceremonies. According to the court: “the ban was implemented to effectuate what defendants believed was the advice of the medicine men and spiritual leaders regarding the Lakota religion rather than due to security reasons. Defendants essentially enforced what they determined to be the more “traditional” Lakota belief. But the state may not determine what is “traditional” or “orthodox” within a certain religious tradition.”

In Reeder v. Hogan2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134709 (ND NY, Sept. 19, 2012), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134710, July 11, 2012) and dismissed an inmate’s suit against the prison’s “grievance sergeant” complaining about not receiving Ramadan meals.

In Rowser v. Desousa2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134858 (SD NY, Sept. 17, 2012), a New York federal district court dismissed a suit by an inmate complaining about an attempted strip frisk that violates Muslim religious rules.

In Myers v. Burdick2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135999 (ED WI, Sept. 24, 2012), a Wisconsin federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his RLUIPA claim (but not his free exercise or equal protection claims) challenging the prison system’s policy on tarot cards. The court held that “a factfinder could conclude that a total denial of all tarot cards other than the Aquarian Tarot and specifically the denial of the Golden Dawn Tarot and its companion book, was not the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

In Coleman v. Allen2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135816 (MD AL, Sept. 24, 2012), an Alabama federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136411, Sept. 7, 2012) and dismissed claims by a Native American inmate regarding constraints on religious ceremonies, ordering of religious items, use of sweat lodge and tobacco, interruption of religious services, and access to ceremonial grounds at the prison in which he was formerly held.

In Riley v. DeCarlo2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137279 (WD PA, Sept. 25, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed a complaint by a Muslim inmate that he was not furnished with a Halal diet.

In Bonilla v. Annucci2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137235 (ND NY, Sept. 25, 2012), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137241, Aug. 16, 2012), and permitted inmates who are members of Nations of Gods and Earth to move ahead with their free exercise and RLUIPA claims regarding restrictions on congregative opportunities and wearing crowns (but not as to restrictions on displaying symbols, flag and texts). The court also allowed plaintiffs to move ahead with their equal protection challenges to restrictions on displaying NGE symbols and the Universal Flag, wearing crowns, and on congregating for services, classes, and on Honor Days.