An Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Before: SLOVITER, Chief Judge, COWEN, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.
Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) August 13, 1996
This appeal by four present and former inmates of the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon (SCI-Huntingdon) (collectively "Inmates"), presents a troublesome question relating to the provision of adequate facilities for religious worship in a prison environment. The inmates, Elwood Small, Eric Baynes, Brian Ross and Lawrence Ellison, members of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, sued prison officials *fn1 under 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983 for allegedly violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by providing only one Muslim worship service in their prison for all Muslim sects. *fn2 They filed suit pro se in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on July 30, 1993. In their briefs filed in the district court opposing the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the Inmates asserted for the first time an alternative claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA or Act), 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2000bb.
The district court, adopting the Report and Recommendation of a magistrate judge, found that the prison officials did not violate the Inmates' First Amendment rights because the officials provided sufficient alternative means for Muslim worship. Further, the court found that the Inmates' RFRA claim was untimely. It noted, however, that the Inmates' claim did not implicate the Act. The Inmates filed a timely appeal to this court. We vacate the judgment and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings.
The Inmates are members of the Sunni Muslim religion, one of five organized groups of practicing Muslims at SCI-Huntingdon. *fn3 The prison provides Jummah and Taleem services *fn4 for all the approximately two hundred Muslim inmates. All Muslim sects are invited to attend services, and generally upon arrival at services in the chapel separate into groups.
The Inmates requested separate space for religious services for Sunni Muslims, claiming that there are fundamental differences between the Muslim sects that prevent them from worshiping together in one service. The Sunni Muslim sect at SCI-Huntingdon approximates 75 in number and is one of the two largest at the institution. The Inmates claim that several empty rooms are available at the prison at times when they wish to worship, that they are one of the larger Muslim sects in the installation, and that the institution could allow them to use one of the available rooms without excessive expense or additional security. They contend that the differences between the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and the other Muslim sects can be compared to the differences between Catholics and Protestants, who are provided facilities for separate services at Huntingdon. They also assert that Pennsylvania provides separate facilities for Sunni Muslim services at other maximum security prisons.
Prison officials denied the request, stating that the institution did not have the space or the resources to accommodate separate worship services. Further, the officials asserted that they had consulted an expert in the Muslim faith who informed them that Muslim belief permits a combined worship service of various sects.
The Inmates submitted numerous unsworn written statements by prisoners asserting that the teachings of the institution's current Muslim worship service leader are in direct contradiction to their faith. *fn5 They assert that the Sunni Muslim religion mandates adherence to the four "Schools of Thought," and that they may not be led in prayer by anyone who does not subscribe to these doctrines. The unsworn declarations stated: "If I choose to attend Jummah Services, I am required to practice it under the teachings and practices ([e.g.,] language, Dress Code and teachings of Iman Wallace Deem Muhammad) which are in direct conflict with the four (4) School's [sic] of Thought of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood." In their brief opposing the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the Inmates asserted that there are several unused areas in the Huntingdon institution that could be used for services on Fridays without burdening the State, and that the prison's security staff had been increased. Further, they contend that the policy at SCI-Huntingdon violates RFRA.
The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The court maintained that the Inmates provided no support for their allegations, and thus accepted the defendants' version of the facts as true. It held that the defendants had a legitimate penological interest in denying the Inmates space for a separate Sunni Muslim service, finding that the institution lacked sufficient funds and staffing to provide the services. Further, the court noted that prison officials had consulted with an expert in the Muslim ...