Federal Prisoner’s Constitutional Right to Religious Liberty at Stake in West Virginia Case
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has been asked to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of a case filed by a federal prisoner, who seeks damages for violations of his constitutional right to free exercise of his religion.
Marvin X. Damon’s lawsuit alleges he was served a ceremonial meal that violated his religion’s dietary laws. While a prisoner at the Federal Correctional Institution at McDowell near Welch, West Virginia, Damon, a member of the Nation of Islam, was served a meal that substituted kidney beans for the navy beans called for by his religion.
“Some would dismiss this case as nothing more than a hill of beans,” said an amicus brief in support of Damon’s appeal, “but it in fact presents an important question that strikes at heart of religious liberty and has divided the Circuits: Does the Prison Litigation Reform Act prevent an incarcerated plaintiff from recovering compensatory damages for violations of Free Exercise Rights that do not result in physical injury?”
The amicus brief was filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law, the ACLU and the ACLU of West Virginia.
PDF of news release is HERE.
PDF of Amicus Brief is HERE.
PDF of Motion for Leave to File is HERE.
Federal Court Asked to Block Enforcement of Pennsylvania Law to Silence Anyone Convicted of a Personal Injury Crime
A motion for a preliminary injunction has been filed in federal court in Pennsylvania seeking to stop enforcement of a state law intended to silence Mumia Abu-Jamal and others convicted of personal injury crimes.
The motion was filed by the Abolitionist Law Center, Amistad Law Project, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) filed a similar lawsuit and preliminary injunction.
The Silencing Act allows the Pennsylvania Attorney General, county prosecutors, and victims of personal injury crimes to bring a lawsuit in civil court against the person convicted of the personal injury crime to enjoin conduct that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” The actions that could prompt a lawsuit include “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”
“This law is unconstitutional,” said David Shapiro of MacArthur Justice Center. “The facts are on our side and the law is on our side. The Silencing Act targets a huge amount of constitutionally protected speech based on who is speaking.”
PDF of news release is HERE.
PDF of the motion for preliminary injunction is HERE.
PDF of brief in support of motion for preliminary injunction is HERE.
Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of Pennsylvania Law Muzzling Anyone Convicted of a Personal Injury Crime
The new law allows injunctive relief to silence and fine an offender “for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” A victim of a personal injury crime, a district attorney or the Pennsylvania attorney general could seek the injunction.
The speech restriction was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in response to a college commencement address recorded from prison by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. A death sentence against Abu-Jamal was vacated in 2001 due to irregularities in the sentencing process, and the Philadelphia district attorney ended efforts to reimpose the death penalty 10 years later.
During his decades in prison, Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence. Prior to his arrest, he was president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and was a staff reporter for WHYY, the NPR affiliate in Philadelphia. He has written extensively books and essays about prison and the justice system and delivered commentaries on Prison Radio.
“Although politicians in Pennsylvania may not like what Abu-Jamal has to say, the Constitution gives him the right to say it,” said David M. Shapiro, clinical assistant professor of law and attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center. “If convicted of a crime, a state can take away anyone’s freedom of movement during their sentence, but a state cannot take away our freedom of speech.”
“This law would prevent anyone convicted of a personal injury crime from saying or writing anything that might upset a crime victim, and that includes any proclamation of innocence or public appearance reminding the victim of the crime,” Shapiro said. “This challenge to an unwise and unconstitutional Pennsylvania law is not aimed at crime victims but is necessary to preserve constitutional rights, which are guaranteed to all of us and are the foundation of our legal system.”
Jamal v. Kane was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In addition to Jamal, plaintiffs include two other writers in state prisons, Prison Radio, the Human Rights Coalition and Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Defendants are Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia County District Attorney R. Seth Williams.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh, the Amistad Law Project in Philadelphia and the MacArthur Justice Center.
PDF of the lawsuit is HERE.
RMJC Attorney Seeks Justice in Poland for Victim of American Torture
Roderick MacArthur Justice Center attorney Joseph Margulies, in concert with other lawyers, has asked the Polish government to investigate charges that Americans tortured Abu Zubaydah while he was detained in a secret prison in Poland.
The suit contends that the Polish government illegally colluded in the torture by hosting the prison.
Margulies said Zubaydah "has been described as the guinea pig for the enhanced interrogation program" that led to widespread condemnation of American anti-terrorism methods.
U.S. officials arrested Zubaydah in March 2002. At the time, they described him as the third-ranking member of Al Qaeda. They subjected him to all the "enhanced" techniques devised by the Bush Administration, including waterboarding. According to a 2005 Central Intelligence Agency memo, Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002 alone. Eventually, the United States acknowledged they had significantly misjudged Zubaydah. The United States Government no longer alleges Zubaydah was a member of al Qaeda, an associate of Usama bin Laden, a supporter of his radical ideology, or that he had anything to do with the attacks of September 11.
Zubaydah has not been charged with a crime. He remains in United States custody at Guantanamo. His ordeal was recounted in a 2009 commentary Margulies published in the Los Angeles Times.
Updated - 01/07/2011