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Second Circuit Affirms Muslim Prisoner’s Right Not to Drink Water during Ramadan

Second Circuit Affirms Muslim Prisoner’s Right Not to Drink Water during Ramadan

by Lonnie Burton

Darryl Holland, a Muslim prisoner at the Wende Correctional Facility in New York, was faced with a tough choice on November 20, 2003. Unable to provide a urine sample when ordered to do so by prison staff, he either had to drink water to be able to provide the sample (and therefore violate the rules of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting), or refuse the water (and violate prison rules by failing to provide a urine sample).

Holland chose the latter.

As a result, he was issued a disciplinary report and spent 77 days in “keeplock,” a version of the hole. Initially sentenced to 90 days in keeplock and 90 days loss of privileges, Holland was released early when an appeal was finally resolved in his favor by the Director of Special Housing/Inmate Discipline.

As stated at his hearing and in his appeals, when confronted with the request to provide a urine sample, Holland informed Wende captain Martin Kearney that he would gladly drink water and provide the urine sample after sunset, but could not do so during the day due to the tenets of his faith because Ramadan was in progress. Kearney, who had received information that Holland was using drugs, denied his request, wrote the disciplinary report and sent Holland to keeplock.

Holland subsequently filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deprivation of his First Amendment rights, a retaliation claim and violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). After more than seven years of litigation, U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Telesca granted summary judgment to the defendants on all counts, finding that their conduct placed only a de minimus burden on Holland’s religious exercise and that RLUIPA did not support Holland’s claim for monetary damages pursuant to Sossamon v. Texas, 131 S.Ct. 1651 (2011) [PLN, Aug. 2011, p.22].

The district court also held that Holland had not shown a liberty interest in avoiding keeplock, and found the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on his free exercise claim because his right to an exception to the prison’s drug testing rules was not clearly established at the time he was ordered to provide a urine sample.

Holland appealed and the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of all his claims except one – the free exercise claim. “The choice to either provide a urine sample by drinking water during his fast or to face disciplinary action placed a substantial burden on Holland’s religious exercise,” the appellate court wrote.

Citing Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582 (2d Cir. 2003), the Court of Appeals said it was clearly established that prisoners have a right “to a diet consistent with their religious scruples.” Although Ford concerned a slightly different situation of a prisoner who was refused a meal, “[the] difference between the denial of a meal and the imposition of a drink is of no constitutional significance.”

The Second Circuit concluded that the district court’s finding that Holland could have drank the water and then “made it up” with an extra day of fasting – as an indication the order to provide a urine sample placed only a de minimus burden on Holland’s religious beliefs – “finds no support in our case law.”

After Holland filed suit and following his release from prison, the urinalysis policy in New York’s prison system was changed statewide in 2012 to allow urine samples from Muslim prisoners participating in Ramadan to be taken after sunset.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case for reconsideration of Holland’s First Amendment free exercise claim seeking monetary damages. Jeffrey A. Wadsworth and Candace Curran of Harter Secrest & Emery LLP represented Holland pro bono. The case remains pending on remand. See: Holland v. Goord, 758 F.3d 215 (2d Cir. 2014).


Additional source: New York Law Journal


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Related legal case

Holland v. Goord