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ST. CLAIRE v. CUYLER

November 29, 1979

FRANK "X" ST. CLAIRE
v.
JULIUS CUYLER, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

Plaintiff Frank "X" St. Claire, presently and during the relevant time period, November 1976 to December 1977, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania (Graterford), has brought this civil rights action asking for declaratory, injunctive and damage relief for the alleged infringement of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of free exercise of his religion. The action is brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 providing for declaratory and injunctive relief. Jurisdiction is founded upon 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

The defendants are Julius Cuyler, who is, and at all times relevant was, the superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Graterford; William I. Walker, D.C. Wampole, John Burroughs, and R. H. Spaid, all correctional officers at Graterford; Martin Dragovich, corrections counselor and acting case work supervisor during the relevant period, and James Thrash, maintenance superintendent.

 In 1968 the plaintiff joined the Nation of Islam and in 1973 changed his affiliation to the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam. He is presently a practicing Muslim and believes in the tenets of the Muslim faith as follows: (1) there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger; (2) plaintiff should observe prayer at least five times a day; (3) he should pay zakat (contributions for charity); (4) he should fast during the holy month of Ramadan; and (5) he should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least one time during his life.

 The plaintiff also believes that he should, whenever and wherever possible, and especially while praying, wear a kufi, which is a small round hat and which to the plaintiff indicates piety, humbleness, humility, neatness and devotion. Wearing the kufi is not mandatory, but is customary, and plaintiff believes it brings him closer to his God. It is also an insignia of the particular Islamic group to which he belongs. In addition, plaintiff's religion mandates attendance as often as possible but at least once a month at the congregational service known as Jumuah on Friday. A group of Muslims praying in concert is called Jumuah, and Jumuah prayer on Fridays provides twenty times more blessings than prayer performed alone.

 On three specific occasions, occurring in December 1976, July and September 1977, plaintiff alleges his free exercise rights were infringed. From December 1976 through September 1977 plaintiff resided at times in a general population unit, in a segregated unit called "B" gallery and in the Behavioral Adjustment Unit (BAU), now known as the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). Although both B gallery and RHU are segregated units, inmates on B gallery have more privileges than those in RHU; they are allowed out of their cells for breakfast, lunch, dinner, yard recreation, and for showers; on RHU inmates are allowed out of their cells only once a day.

 On December 10, 1976, plaintiff, confined to B gallery, was wearing his kufi when he entered the B gallery dining room at mealtime. Although Superintendent Cuyler testified that there is a prison rule that no hats are allowed in the dining room, defendants have not shown that there is now, or ever has been, any written rule, regulation or directive prohibiting the wearing of headgear in the dining room. *fn1" Officer Walker ordered plaintiff to remove the prayer hat despite the fact that plaintiff stated that it had religious significance for him and that he wished to continue to wear it. Although distressed and angered, since he believed his religious rights to have been infringed, plaintiff claims he removed the kufi *fn2" and replaced it as he was leaving the area. Defendant Officer Burroughs, also in the dining area, told plaintiff he was guilty of a misconduct for wearing the kufi and refusing to obey an order. As a result of the misconduct, plaintiff was transferred back to the BAU to serve the remainder of a term there for a previous infraction that was to have expired December 17, and for which plaintiff had been released early. Following a December 13 hearing on the misconduct, plaintiff was returned to BAU until December 17 and given ninety days probation effective December 13, 1976, expiring on March 13, 1977. The hearing was conducted by Officers Dragovich, Spaid and Thrash. On December 17, 1976, plaintiff was transferred out of the BAU to the general population on C block and was assigned to kitchen duty.

 The second incident, also involving a prayer hat, occurred on September 14, 1977, when plaintiff had an appointment to meet with the Parole Board. Attending the Parole Board involved going beyond the security gate in the main corridor, where, according to Superintendent Cuyler, prisoners are not allowed to wear "civilian" clothes. *fn3" On the date of his scheduled visit to the Parole Board, plaintiff was wearing a turban made from a bedsheet wrapped around his head. The turban is another form of religious head covering similar in purpose to the kufi, and has for the plaintiff and other members of the Muslim faith religious significance. At the security gate defendant Officer Wampole would not permit the plaintiff to attend the Parole Board hearing unless he removed his turban. For religious reasons plaintiff refused and was forced to forfeit his chance to meet with the Board. In a September 20, 1977 report the Parole Board rendered the following decision: "refuse Parole with prejudice; negative interest in parole. Will review when you request consideration." Plaintiff's Exhibit P-3.

 The third incident occurred on July 20, 1977, when plaintiff was in administrative segregation on B gallery. On that date plaintiff made a formal written request to be permitted to attend Jumuah services on Friday afternoon in accordance with his religious beliefs. Plaintiff's Exhibit P-4. Superintendent Cuyler denied the request and advised plaintiff that he would be allowed to attend religious services only after his release from segregation. Plaintiff's Exhibit P-5.

 As a matter of policy, allegedly never varied, inmates on B gallery or in RHU are not permitted to attend religious services while in segregation regardless of the nature of their offense. In addition the prison authorities make no determination as to whether or not a particular inmate is a potential troublemaker, or indeed whether there is any reason at all for excluding him from religious services other than his residence in a segregated unit. In this respect, there is no evidence on the record to show that Muslim prisoners are treated any differently from members of other religious faiths.

 II. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW :

 Plaintiff claims that the unwritten rule prohibiting the wearing of religious hats in the dining area, the refusal to permit him to wear a kufi or turban to a Parole Board hearing, and the denial of chapel privileges to inmates in segregated units all impermissibly interfere with the free exercise of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to practice his religion.

 It is undisputed that a prisoner is not stripped of all constitutional rights merely by virtue of incarceration. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1979), Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 94 S. Ct. 2800, 41 L. Ed. 2d 495 (1974). In particular, the First Amendment prohibition against governmental interference with the free exercise of religion, applicable to the states by reason of the Fourteenth Amendment, Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Ct. 900, 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940), protects state prisoners from penalty for the exercise of their religious beliefs. Pell v. Procunier, supra; Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 92 S. Ct. 1079, 31 L. Ed. 2d 263 (1972) (per curiam). It is, however, equally well established that a prisoner retains his or her First Amendment rights only insofar as their exercise is not inconsistent with the needs and objectives of the prison. In this light, great deference is accorded the ...


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