Hartmann v. California Dep't of Corrections

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 02-19-2013
  • Case #: 11-16008
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Duffy for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

To establish a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a plaintiff-inmate who practices a non-traditional religion must plead sufficient facts showing that prison officials denied her a “reasonable opportunity” to freely exercise her faith comparable to inmates “adhering to conventional religious precepts.”

Plaintiffs are Wiccan inmates at Central California Women’s Facility (“CCWF”). Plaintiffs alleged that, by failing to provide a full-time Wiccan chaplain, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) violated their rights under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), and the California State Constitution. CDCR’s current policy allows only for the hiring of chaplains for five faiths: Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Protestant. Plaintiffs argued that there are more Wiccan inmates than inmates of certain chaplain-provided faiths and, therefore, sought an injunction requiring CDCR to hire a Wiccan chaplain. CDCR argued that the First Amendment does not require prison administration officials to provide inmates with the chaplain of their choice, only that they must be given a “reasonable opportunity” to worship without a “substantial burden” on their religious exercise. The district court dismissed each of Plaintiffs’ claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and held that Plaintiffs’ complaint did not contain sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory, stating that the Free Exercise Clause did not require prison administration officials to provide for more than the volunteer Wiccan chaplains who were already used when available. The Court held that Plaintiffs must plead sufficient facts showing that the Defendants denied them a “reasonable opportunity” to freely exercise their faith comparable to inmates “adhering to conventional religious precepts.” However, the Court reversed the district court’s ruling on the Establishment Clause issue, because the policy allowing only for the hiring of the five faiths could be seen as an unconstitutional endorsement of one religion over another. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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