Where does the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals draw the line for freedom of religion in prison, when religious freedom involves allowing a violent offender to espouse religious views that perpetuate violence?
That’s a broad question and foreseeably, the question could touch on a number of religious philosophies and ideologies.
That’s why it’s such an important question. And interestingly, the First Amendment isn’t always the law of choice for prisoners who want to fight for their right to religious freedom.
The case before the 6th Circuit here involves a prison inmate who fought for the right to receive "hate-filled white supremacist material" in a Tennessee prison, writes the Associated Press.
Anthony Hayes, a convicted murderer, won his appeal and thus, the right to argue that he has a right to receive the literature at his prison because he claims that the literature is a part of his religion. Hayes has been in Tennessee prison since 1997 and is serving a sentence for first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and two counts of felony escape, reports AP.
His federal lawsuit was filed in Knoxville after officials at Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex failed to allow him access to the literature. The literature, Hayes claimed, was related to his religious affiliation with the Christian Israel Identity, an organization identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a racist neo-Nazi movement.
According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, teachings of this group call for the annihilation of Jews and other groups in order to bring Christ's return. As noted in court documents, the materials rejected by the warden stated that "Jews are mongrelized descendants of Satan through Cain."
Prior to the appeal, a district court had dismissed Hayes' lawsuit against the state of Tennessee and its prison system. The case is now being sent back to the district court by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 6th Circuit Court writes that the district court failed to respond to Hayes' argument on the violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
For more information on RLUIPA, have a look at the related resources below.
- US Code: Protection of religious exercise in land use and by institutionalized persons (FindLaw Codes)
- The Obama Administration's Approach to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA): Not Very Different From the Bush or Clinton Administrations? (FindLaw's Writ)
- The Supreme Court's New Ruling on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act's Prison Provisions: Deferring Key Constitutional Questions (FindLaw's Writ)