Less than a week after its decision in Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court in Knight v. Thompson, No. 13-955 (2015), granted the petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated and remanded the Eleventh Circuit’s rejection of Native American prisoners’ claims challenging prison policy requiring all male inmates to have a “regular hair
Remember the scene in Home Alone where Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) shaves for the first time, applies aftershave, and then screams in pain from the sting of the alcohol touching his skin (watch it here)? Local governments may similarly feel the burn after reading the Supreme Court’s decision in Holt v. Hobbs, decided on January 20, which considered the portion of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) that governs religious exercise by institutionalized persons (Section 3, 42 USC § 2000cc–1). Although the case does not discuss the land use provisions of RLUIPA, the Court’s interpretation of the standard applicable to governmental action imposing a substantial burden on religious exercise—whether the government furthered a compelling interest through the least restrictive means—could have a major influence on all RLUIPA substantial burden decisions and make defending land use decisions more difficult for local governments.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds Prison Grooming Policy Violates RLUIPA: Did Local Government Take a Haircut in the Process?
Ronald Reiske, a Wiccan prisoner incarcerated in a Connecticut prison, thought it reasonable that the correctional facility provide him with the necessary materials and equipment to practice his Wiccan religion – including 14 feet of rope, candles, oils, a three-by-two-foot pile of wood, a pendant cord, and a “summoning horn.” Should he have such things in prison? What threat might rope, candles, combustible oils, a pile of wood, and the rest of the items pose in such a facility? Reverend Anthony Bruno, Director of Religious Services for the Department of Corrections (DOC), found that they were indeed a substantial threat and denied many of the requests. Requests for less threatening items were also denied because similar items were already available for purchase in the commissary.
Displeased with the result, Reiske – whose record includes charges for fighting, gang affiliation, security tampering, flagrant disobedience, and possession of contraband – did what many other inmates do when they don’t get what they want. He sued. According to Reiske, the DOC’s denial substantially burdened his practice of his Wiccan religion in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). He also asserted an Equal Protection violation under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Continue Reading Wiccan Prisoner Seeking 14 Feet of Rope, Combustible Oils, and Candles Loses First Amendment, RLUIPA, and Equal Protection Challenges