By Christopher Zoukis A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Chicago has blocked an Illinois prison warden’s confiscation of a small pentacle (a five-pointed state within a circle) medallion worn by an inmate as a symbol of his Wiccan faith. The July 13 preliminary injunction issued by the 7th Circuit reversed a district…Read More
By Mark Wilson
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that damages are required, as a matter of law, when a parolee is incarcerated for objecting to compelled participation in a religious-based drug treatment program.
Citing “uncommonly well-settled case law,” the Court of Appeals found in 2007 that the First Amendment is violated when the state coerces an individual to attend a religious-based substance abuse program. See: Inouyev.Kemna, 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007).
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) contracts with Westcare, a private entity, to provide drug and alcohol treatment for parolees in Northern California. Westcare, in turn, contracts with Empire Recovery Center, a non-profit facility. “Empire uses a 12-step recovery program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, that includes references to ‘God’ and to ‘higher power.’”
Barry A. Hazle, Jr., an atheist, was incarcerated due to California drug convictions. His parole conditions required him to complete a 90-day residential drug treatment program.
Prior to his February 26, 2007 release from prison, Hazle had asked prison and Westcare officials to place him in a non-religious treatment program. Westcare officials directed Hazle to Empire.
When Hazle realized Empire was a religious-based program, he repeatedly objected to Westcare officials. They responded “that the only alternative to Empire was a treatment facility whose program had an even greater focus on religion.”Read More
A federal district court awarded $200 to a Utah prisoner who sued on the grounds that prison officials interfered with his right to freely exercise his religion. However, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed part of the prisoner’s appeal because he did not adequately brief some of his claims, and held that another claim was moot.
Danny Lee Warner, Jr. alleged that while he was held at the Utah State Prison, officials denied various requests that he said were necessary to practice his religion. Warner is a follower of Odinism, also known as Asatru and Odhvegr, which is a faith based on Norse mythology.
He asked for accommodations that included a metal or wood thorshammer medallion, wood runes, a wooden bowl and an altar cloth. In denying his requests, prison officials cited security concerns. Warner also alleged that for Winter Nights, an Odinist holiday period lasting several weeks, he was denied break-the-fast boxes (boxed meals to eat after sunset). Further, prison officials refused to allow him access to a publication due to a ban on all materials from the publisher, National Vanguard Press.
Warner filed suit alleging that prison officials had violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, as well as his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protect and due process. His lawsuit also claimed violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) based on the denial of his request for break-the-fast boxes and the publication ban.
At the time the district court ruled on Warner’s motion for summary judgment he had been transferred to the Florence Correctional Center in Arizona. Nonetheless, he proceeded on the grounds that he would be returned to Utah for incarceration at some point in the future. His lawsuit named the defendants in their official and individual capacities, and sought an injunction to prevent them from continuing to violate his rights.Read More
By Mark Wilson / Prison Legal News
On August 16, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held for the second time that a prisoner’s request to form an atheist study group must be given the same consideration as other religious study groups.
Wisconsin prisoner James J. Kaufman, an atheist, asked to form a study group dedicated to atheism. Prison officials denied his request as one seeking to establish a nonreligious activity group. He then filed suit in federal court.
In 2005, the Seventh Circuit held that prison officials had violated Kaufman’s First Amendment rights by refusing his request to create a religious study group dedicated to atheism while allowing other religious study groups. See: Kaufman v. McCaughtry, 419 F.3d 678 (7th Cir. 2005) (Kaufman I).
After Kaufman was transferred to the Stanley Correctional Institution, he “encountered nearly identical resistance to his efforts to create an atheist practice group.”
Prisoners requesting to participate in religious study “fill out a Religious Preference form that allows them to select one of the recognized umbrella groups, ‘no preference,’ or ‘other.’ If the inmate selects ‘other,’ he may write in a religion. If the religion he specifies does not fall within one of the seven umbrella groups, he is not permitted to attend a religious practice group, though he may practice on his own by visiting the religious library or meeting with the Chaplain individually.”Read More
By Christopher Zoukis
Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons have access to a number of religious programs at their local prison facility. While religious service offerings depend on locality and security level, all federal prisoners in general population status can expect to have access to a Religious Services Department where they can explore and strengthen their spirituality. Those in more restrictive settings (e.g., control units, Special Housing Units, administrative housing, etc.) enjoy less access to religious programming.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, “Institutions schedule religious services and meeting times for inmates of many faiths. Religious programs are led or supervised by staff chaplains, contract spiritual leaders, and community volunteers. Chaplains oversee inmate self-improvement forums such as scripture study and religious workshops, and provide pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and counseling.” All such activities are facilitated in a federal prison’s Religious Services Department.
In a typical federal prison, the Religious Services Department offers a number of religious programs each week. All major religions are represented in such services. For example, at FCI Petersburg, Buddhist, Jewish, Rastafarian, and Wiccan faith groups all have one service a week and one study a week. This amounts to around 3 hours of worship and study time, respectively. Other groups, for example, the Christians at FCI Petersburg, have several additional services due to a Christian rock band’s practice slot, the Christian choir’s practice slot, and additional time afforded for impromptu worship sessions. While it can be hard for “lesser” religions to gain a foothold in a federal prison’s chapel (e.g., the Buddhists, Wiccans, Hare Krishnas, and Santerias at FCI Petersburg have had some problems with this), with agitation, some of the extra Christian worship, fellowship, and hang-out slots can be afforded to groups which have minimal worship slots attributed to their group.Read More
By Christopher Zoukis The other day a friend asked me a question. The question was, “What does the future of the battle for prisoners’ rights look like?” To this, I responded that the battle ground will most likely revolve around the First Amendment; that we, as prisoner rights advocates, would have to fight for the…Read More
The First Amendment protects “the free exercise” of religion, and this right extends to those in prisons and jails. This has been established by the courts, see Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972)(Buddhist prisoner has right to practice faith in prison), and by federal statutes. E.g., 42 U.S.C. sect; 2000cc et seq. (Religious…Read More