Friday, August 8, 2014

Muslim inmate has First Amendment claim in urine-testing dispute

If the rights of inmates were put up for a majority vote, the American public would probably say that if you are guilty of a crime, you have no religious freedoms left. Inmates do have religious freedom, though, under statutory and constitutional law, which is why a Muslim inmate prevails on his claim that prison officials violated his religious rights in the course of a drug testing procedure.

The case is Holland v. Goord,decided on July 10. Holland is a practicing Muslim who is serving time in prison. Under a drug-testing procedure, Holland had to provide a urine sample within a three-hour window. But since Holland was fasting during Ramadan, he could not comply with the order or drink water to facilitate the process. He offered to do all this after sunset, when Ramadan ended, but the jail refused that accommodation, and Holland was therefore sent to keeplock for 77 days as punishment. The district court threw out the case, but the Court of Appeals (Jacobs, Calabresi and Livingston) reinstates it.

The Second Circuit revives the claim under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. "Ordering Holland to provide a urine sample -- and drink water in violation of his fast -- or face confinement in keeplock substantially burdened Holland's free exercise right." A core tenet of Holland's religion is that he cannot ingest food or water during Ramadan. And, since Holland could not drink water, he was unable to discharge any urine. While the state argued in the district court that "it is common knowledge that people that do not eat or drink for a day are still able to produce urine," the state does not advance that argument on appeal.

Since Holland has shown that the hard-and-fast three-hour window substantially burdens his religious practices, to win the case, the state has to show that its policy is "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests," a lenient standard adopted by the Supreme Court many moons ago. The Court of Appeals leaves this question for the district court to resolve, though the Second Circuit has its doubts about whether the state can win this, since the jail superintendent at some point decided that the urinalysis could have taken place after sunset and the policy was later amended to accommodate Muslim inmates who fast during Ramadan.  

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