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Name Change Statute Upheld

Kevin Mathews is a Texas state prisoner who filed suit under § 1983 challenging the constitutionality of § 32.22 of the Texas Family Code. The statute in question prohibits convicted felons from changing their names unless the person has been discharged from parole or probation, has been pardoned or two years have passed since parole or probation were completed. Mathews is a Muslim and sought to change his name to a Muslim name. The district court dismissed the suit for failing to state a claim and the court of appeals for the fifth circuit affirmed.

Mathews relied on Felix v. Rolan, 833 F.2d 517 (5th Cir. 1987) which held that adoption of Islamic names by prisoners was protected by the first amendment and should not be unduly burdened by prison officials. The fifth circuit in this case held that O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 107 S.Ct. 2400 (1987) required that they uphold the statute because Mathews still had other ways of practicing his religion and changing his name implicated prison security. In Felix the court had held that requiring a prisoner to use both his original and his religious name satisfied any security concerns by prison officials.

Not addressed by the court, nor apparently raised by Mathews, is the fact that Congress has expressly overruled O'Lone with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [See: PLN, Vol. 5, No. 6]. It is doubtfill whether the statute would pass muster under the RFRA. See: Mathews v. Morales, 23 F.3d 118 (5th Cir. 1994).

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Related legal case

Mathews v. Morales

Matthews v. Morales, 23 F.3d 118 (5th Cir. 06/21/1994)


[2] No. 93-4907

[4] decided as corrected: June 21, 1994.


[6] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. D.C. DOCKET NUMBER 92-CV-411. JUDGE William Wayne Justice

[7] For Kevin Deon Matthew, PRO SE, Beeville, TX.

[8] For Defendant-Appellee: Dan Morales, AG, Austin, TX. Theresa Ann Kraatz, AAG, Ausyin, TX.

[9] Before Wisdom, Davis and Duhe, Circuit Judges.

[10] Author: Per Curiam

[11] Per Curiam:

[12] Kevin Deon Matthews appeals the district court's dismissal of his suit alleging that § 32.22 of the Texas Family Code violates his free exercise of religion. Because we find that § 32.22 is logically connected to legitimate state penological concerns, we affirm.

[13] I.

[14] Kevin Deon Matthews, an inmate incarcerated in the Texas state penitentiary, filed a pro se civil rights suit in federal district court. He argues that § 32.22 of the Texas Family Code*fn1 infringes his freedom of religion, equal protection and due process by restricting his ability to change his name. Matthews is an African-American Muslim and contends that:

[15] according to the Muslim religion, once you come under the Islamic faith, you are required to have your name changed. The reason you have your name changed is because it ties you into the "attributes of God." It's symbolic of a spiritual change. If I am unable to change my name, I am not practicing my religion freely.

[16] Matthews sought the grant of a petition for name change, and declaratory and injunctive relief.

[17] Morales filed a motion to dismiss. The magistrate Judge determined that the statute was religiously neutral and not directed at any particular religious group. He concluded that the statute was enacted for security reasons, namely so that a felon could not change his name and evade detection and to preserve a felon's criminal history. He concluded that § 32.22 was not unconstitutional "even though it may incidentally burden plaintiff's right to freedom of religion." He also determined that Matthews failed to state a claim under equal protection or due process.

[18] Although Matthews' motion to enlarge time to file written objections to the magistrate's report was granted, he failed to file objections. The district court issued a final judgment, adopting the magistrate's findings and recommendations, granting Morales' motion to dismiss.

[19] II.

[20] Matthews argues that § 32.22 is unconstitutional because it violates his right as a Muslim to the free exercise of religion. He also argues that the statute is overly broad.

[21] Matthews relies on this circuit's decision in Felix v. Rolan, 833 F.2d 517 (5th Cir.1987), in which this court affirmed the district court's dismissal of a prisoner's § 1983 complaint. We held that:

[22] The adoption of Muslim names by inmates practicing that religion is generally recognized to be an exercise of both first amendment and religious freedom. Restrictions on these rights pass constitutional muster only if they are no greater than is necessary to further important or substantial state interests.

[23] Id. at 518-519 (citations omitted). This court went on to determine that the state's legitimate interest of prison security justified requiring the prisoner to sign in under both his committed name and his legal Muslim name. See, also, Barrett v. Virginia, 689 F.2d 498 (4th Cir.1982) (a Virginia statute prohibiting incarcerated persons from legally changing names is overly broad and implicates an inmate's right to freedom of religion).

[24] In Felix, this court determined that prison regulations implicating free exercise "passes constitutional muster only if they are no greater than is necessary to further important or substantial state interests." However, in O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349, 107 S. Ct. 2400, 2405, 96 L. Ed. 2d 282 (1987), the Supreme Court held that "prison regulations alleged to infringe constitutional rights are Judged under a "reasonableness' test less restrictive than that ordinarily applied to alleged infringements of fundamental constitutional rights."

[25] In O'Lone, prisoners claimed that regulations barring them from returning to the main prison building where Friday Jumu'ah services were being held violated their free exercise. The Court found that the policy was based on security because returning prisoners had to pass through the main gate, which was a high security risk area, and was also based on minimizing overcrowding. The Court determined that the regulation was reasonable because its terms had "a logical connection to legitimate governmental interests" of security and minimizing overcrowding. Id. at 350, 107 S. Ct. at 2405.

[26] The Court also considered whether "alternative means of exercising that right ... remain open to prison inmates." Although prisoners could not attend Jumu'ah services, they could attend other Muslim religious ceremonies, were given a special diet, and were entitled to special arrangements during Ramadan. Id. at 351, 107 S. Ct. at 2405.

[27] Under the standard announced in O'Lone, we must determine whether a statute barring name changes by prisoners and probationers, like the regulation barring prisoners from returning to the main building, has "a logical connection to legitimate governmental interests." § 32.22 was enacted for security reasons. It is intended to protect the ability to identify persons sought on warrant and detainer, and to preserve the criminal history of felons. Matthews himself concedes in his brief that these are "legitimate state penological concerns."

[28] We find that the statute barring name changes by felons does have a logical connection to a legitimate governmental interest. Therefore, § 32.22 does not violate Matthews' free exercise of religion.


[30] Disposition



Opinion Footnotes


[32] *fn1 This section provides:
a) For good cause shown the court shall order a change of name for any person other than a person finally convicted of a felony as requested if it finds that the change is in the interest or to the benefit of the petitioner and in the interest of the public. b) A court may order a change of name for a person finally convicted of a felony if, in addition to the requirements of Subsection (a), the person has: 1) received a certificate of discharge by the pardons and paroles division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or completed a period of probation ordered by a court and at least two calendar years have elapsed from the date of the receipt of discharge or completion of probation; or 2) been pardoned.