A convicted murderer is slowly making his way up the appeals process ladder in his attempt to get Maine officials to allow him to fully practice Satanism in prison.
Joshua Cookson, a devout Satanist, is allowed to practice in his cell and has reportedly done so on a daily basis since 2007. Cookson, however, wants the same opportunity to practice in the prison’s activities building as other prisoners of religious groups - including paganism and American Indian spirituality - because it “is one of the fundamental parts of his religious beliefs.”
His request has thus far fallen on deaf ears, including the prison’s grievance system, two commissioners of corrections, and a federal magistrate judge.
The arguments against Cookson’s request have largely followed the same vein - fear that the practice’s tenets of “vengeance instead of turn the other cheek” and “hate for your adversary” - would lead to prison violence. Federal Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk even wrote a 23-page recommendation concurring with corrections officials, which Cookson formally objected to.
In court documents, Cookson argues that the commissioners “failed to articulate, much less support with evidence, a secular reason why a meeting of Satanist inmates would pose a greater security risk than inmates of other faiths.”
Now in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock, Cookson’s case hasn’t looked particularly strong thus far but could be bolstered by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Even if he does lose at the district level, however, it doesn’t seem like he will be giving up any time soon. The next, and likely final stop, on his quest to practice Satanism will land at the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ door.
- Dreadlocked: Prison Haircut Based on Religious Discrimination (FindLaw’s Seventh Circuit blog)
- Final Call Newspaper Ban Impedes Free Exercise of Religion (FindLaw’s Fifth Circuit blog)
- Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act Challenge to Zoning Decision, and Civil Rights Matter (FindLaw’s Tenth Circuit blog)