On August 8, 2012, two Missouri prisoners filed this class-action lawsuit under § 1983 against the Missouri Department of Corrections. The prisoners, represented by the ACLU, asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri for declaratory relief that a state constitutional ...
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On August 8, 2012, two Missouri prisoners filed this class-action lawsuit under § 1983 against the Missouri Department of Corrections. The prisoners, represented by the ACLU, asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri for declaratory relief that a state constitutional amendment, voted on by the public on August 7, 2012, was unconstitutional and for injunctive relief against the enforcement or implementation of that amendment. Under Missouri's constitution, freedom of religion, the plaintiffs explained, had long been broader than under the federal First Amendment. Amendment 2 would strengthen religious rights still further -- except for prisoners. For prisoners, Amendment 2 shrank
religious rights, providing that the Missouri freedom-of-religion section "shall not be construed to expand the rights of prisoners in state or local custody beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States." The prisoners claimed that the voter-approved amendment to the Missouri Constitution would, if enforced, deprive prisoners of the additional protections of religious liberty guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution (the prisoners claimed Missouri's Constitution was more protective of an individual's right to religious liberty and expression than federal law). essentially sought to limit Missouri prisoners' religious liberty to that protected by federal law, while providing even greater protection to non-prisoner Missouri citizens. The prisoners claimed this violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. They sought to define a class of all current and future prisoners in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections.
On September 10, 2012, the state moved to dismiss the case. On February 25, 2013, the Court (Judge Howard F. Sachs) agreed with the state that the prisoners had not identified any specific endangered exercise of religious liberty, and thus, the case was a "moot dispute over abstract, hypothetical concepts, unripe for judicial resolution." 2013 WL 684189. In dismissing the prisoners' claim, Judge Sachs said that the prisoners did not offer any reason or cite any cases to support a claim that the Missouri Constitution, prior to Amendment 2, provided prisoners any greater protection of religious liberty than federal law. Thus, there was no change in the law for prisoners, and absent a concrete injury, or even a hypothetical situation where religious liberty would be altered by the new amendment, the court had no controversy before it.
The docket shows no sign of an appeal, so the opinion is presumably final. Alex Wharton - 01/02/2015