On February 25, 2005, the Jesus Christ Christian Ministry, along with fifteen California prisoners, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California against the California Department of Corrections, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ...
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On February 25, 2005, the Jesus Christ Christian Ministry, along with fifteen California prisoners, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California against the California Department of Corrections, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, asked the court for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, alleging that the Department's refusal to deliver mail that contained religious material from the Ministry violated the RLUIPA and the prisoners' First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
The Ministry sent the indigent prisoners books of worship and CDs with music to allow the prisoners to practice their chosen religion, Christianity. However, California prison policy only allowed religious materials to be acquired through a list of four organizations. The Ministry was not one of these four organizations. As such, any Ministry materials that were mailed to prisoners were returned to sender, and any Ministry materials found within the prison were considered contraband. The prisoners filed grievances with the Department, but those grievances were either rejected or ignored.
Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. On September 28, 2006, the District Court (Magistrate Judge Dale Drozd) granted in part and denied in part the prisoners' motion for summary judgment, while also granting the Department's motion as to one prisoner (456 F.Supp.2d 1188). In the decision, Judge Drozd held that the policy violated the prisoners' First Amendment right to free exercise and free speech, as well as their rights under the RLUIPA. The Court determined that the distinction between approved and unapproved vendors was arbitrary, and thus could not serve any legitimate penological interest.
Following the grant of summary judgment, the two sides reached a settlement. According to a Prison Legal News article, "the parties stipulated to a Temporary Operational Procedure for SATF, to be a pilot project at (only) SATF for the purpose of developing a workable final CDCR-wide policy." Under the pilot program, "once per month, JCPM shall ship all such requests in bulk to SATF," at which time "the designated chaplain shall be responsible for randomly reviewing tapes/CDs to verify valid religious content." The District Court maintained jurisdiction for six months after implementation of the pilot program, and $16,400 in attorneys' fees and costs were also awarded.
Following the settlement, the case was voluntarily dismissed.Jonathan Forman - 07/08/2013