Lovelace v. Lee (4th Cir. 2006): Dropped Prison Accommodations for Ramadan Fast-Breaking

This case was brought on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, which granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, prison officials (Warden Jack Lee, Assistant Warden Gene Shinault, and Correctional Officer K. Lester). Petitioner Leroy Lovelace was removed from a “pass list” (which gives inmates access to Ramadan prayer services and special meals) after prison officials claimed that he broke his fast by eating during the day. Lovelace argued that his removal was due to his complaints about expired food, and was thus in violation of his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, and the requirements of Section 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) (protecting prisoners from having their religious practices substantially burdened, without a compelling government interest). Section 3 of RLIUPA states that “No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution, as defined in section 1997 of this title, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person--is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 42 U.S.C.A. §2000cc-1(a). The Court vacated the grant of summary judgment in favor of Officer Lester, the prison official who reported the alleged fast breaking, as well as against Warden Lee, who was in charge of overseeing the prison, concluding that both officials played direct roles in the incident. The Court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the plaintiff had made out a valid due process claim, and the Court affirmed the remainder of the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

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