Virginia state prisoners claiming adherence to the Nation of Islam variant of Islam filed a pro se complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia against Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) officials, citing 42 U.S.C § 1983 and the prisoners' First and Fourteenth Amendment religious freedom rights. The plaintiffs resided in the Buckingham Correctional Center, one of several facilities in the VDOC system. The district court appointed plaintiffs counsel from the University of Virginia Law School Post-Conviction Assistance Project, who (after trial) narrowed the earlier pro se allegations by way of filing an amended complaint. It stated that the state denied plaintiffs their religious rights in three ways: refusing to let them wear, as a show of piety, bow ties; canceling a planned 1985 Ramadan observance; and not providing a menu consistent with Muslim religious requirements. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and compensatory or nominal damages.
The matter had been referred for trial to U.S. Magistrate Judge Glen E. Conrad. After trial, he issued an unpublished recommended disposition on February 15, 1987. The magistrate rejected the prisoners' challenge to the prohibition on wearing bow ties, as well as their efforts to recover damages from the cancellation of the Ramadan observation; however, he recommended that the district judge enjoin VDOC from unreasonably refusing to offer meals consistent with plaintiffs' religious beliefs. Plaintiffs objected only to the bow tie portion of the recommendation, and the defendants objected to the meal accommodation portion.
District Judge Jackson L. Kiser reviewed the objections and the magistrate's recommendation, deciding on July 14, 1988, to adopt the recommended disposition, with a minor modification. He agreed that wearing bow ties in prison could be banned by prison officials to help maintain order and security, given the number of alternative ways of demonstrating piety and the lack of explicit scriptural basis for the practice. As for meals, Judge Kiser noted that witnesses had testified it was difficult to find authoritative guidance on Muslims' dietary requirements, so he slightly modified the magistrate's recommendation. As long as prison officials made a good faith effort to ascertain and furnish a proper Muslim diet, that would suffice in the injunctive relief the court ordered. The defendants appealed from that order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The appellate court ruled on October 20, 1989, in an unpublished opinion captioned Raymond Lee X v. Johnson, written by Circuit Judge Samuel J. Ervin III. The court upheld the district court's decision that prison officials may not refuse to provide a Muslim diet to the plaintiffs, but vacated a portion of the district court's order which failed to provide more specific guidance to the prison officials. Judge Ervin's opinion remanded the case to the district court with instructions to enter a more specific injunctive order. In the appellate opinion, the court observed that the lower court correctly recognized that prison regulations impinging constitutional rights are valid if reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, and that prison regulations should not be reviewed under a least restrictive alternative analysis. With consideration of alternative accommodations being a factor in the reasonableness analysis, Judge Ervin said it was proper for the lower court to note that plaintiffs' facility already offered a Muslim diet part-time and other facilities in the VDOC system did so full-time. Judge Ervin found that no satisfactory penological reasons had been offered as to why full-time provision of such a diet could not be provided in the plaintiffs' facility, so the appellate court rejected the prison officials' appeal, other than to require more specificity in the injunctive order.
Years later, according to the PACER docket entries, in August 1995, a group of pro se prisoners filed motions to intervene in the case as plaintiffs and to seek enforcement of the previous injunction. Their motions were referred to Magistrate Judge Conrad in September and, the next month, the new plaintiffs and the state filed a joint motion for voluntary dismissal, with stipulations, which suggests the matter was settled. On November 6, 1995, Judge Kiser granted the dismissal motion. We do not have copies of these latter pleadings, the settlement, or the unpublished order.
No further action appears to have occurred in this case.Mike Fagan - 05/05/2008