Monday, June 29, 2015
Panel Revives Suit by Muslim Inmate Who Was Forced to Handle Pork
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Muslim ex-inmate who claims he was compelled to handle pork products as part of his kitchen duties can sue Oregon officials for violation of his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The panel reinstated one of Clarence Jones’ three free-exercise claims, along with a retaliation claim, but upheld the dismissal of the remainder of his pro se complaint.
Jones alleged in his complaint against 15 defendants that he is a member of the Nation of Islam, and that he worked as an inmate in the kitchen of Oregon’s state penitentiary between October 2006 and October 2008.;
He claimed that he and other black inmates were subject, unlike their white counterparts, to a 30-day waiting period before they could move from the serving line to a kitchen-entry position where he would not have to serve pork.
He also claimed that when he protested being discriminated against, he became the subject of a “daily performance failure report” and deprived of certain privileges. He was later reassigned as a cook.
The prison subsequently advised him in writing that Muslim inmates were not required to handle pork, and would be reassigned to duties that did not require doing so if they asked. But he was later forced to cook pork loins on one occasion, he alleged.
Senior Judge Andre M. Davis of the Fourth Circuit, sitting by designation, said the district judge should not have granted the defendants summary judgment on the claim arising from the pork-loins incident.
Chief District Judge Ann Aiken held the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established right of inmates to be excused from cooking foods that were considered impure under their religious creed in July 2007 when the incident occurred. Davis, however, cited earlier decisions on free exercise, including one saying that a Jewish inmate had the right to a kosher diet and disposable utensils.
Those decisions, he said, provided “fair and clear warning” that the plaintiff could not be required to violate his religious beliefs by handling pork products. And the prison’s own memorandum informed Jones that assigning him to alternative duties would not excessively burden the administration of the prison.
Davis went on to say that the plaintiff had a triable claim regarding retaliation, although the defense can still claim at trial that the failure report advanced a “legitimate correctional goal,” the appellate jurist said.
The panel, however, affirmed judgment for the defendants on all other issues, holding:
•The plaintiff cannot sue under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, because the statute doesn’t permit an action for damages and any injunctive relief claims are moot since Jones’ release;
•That Jones failed to produce sufficient evidence to support his claim of racial discrimination; and
•That Jones’ claim that kitchen personnel violated his religious rights by cleaning grills in a manner that leaves residual pork grease fails because even if it is true, his religious exercise wasn’t seriously burdened, as he had alternatives to eating grilled meat.
The case is Jones v. Williams, 12-35131.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company