Nevada inmate sues prison system over religious freedom
September 2, 2005
A Nevada prison inmate has accused the Nevada prison system of violating his rights to practice his religion.
Nolan Klein filed the civil rights complaint with the U.S. District Court in Reno charging prison officials are violating his First Amendment rights, breaking federal law and ignoring a May decision by the U.S. Supreme Court by prohibiting his religious practices.
He said prison officials are discriminating against him because he doesn’t practice a so-called “mainstream religion.”
He alleged that prison rules prohibit the use of candles and incense and other materials necessary to his religious practice. He said inmates are allowed worship once a week as a group, and his beliefs are too distinct to be included with the group.
Klein, serving life with possible parole on a rape conviction, is a Wiccan, which adherents describe as a natural faith somewhat akin to traditional Native American beliefs.
He said in the complaint that Lovelock Correctional Center officials have denied him the right to practice his faith and confiscated his religious property.
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Klein charged this isn’t the first time the prison administration has violated his rights. He had another federal case making many of the same accusations which he says was resolved by a settlement agreement in September 2000 in which the prison agreed to allow him his religious freedoms.
Klein pointed to the May 31, 2005, decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which ordered the Ohio department of corrections to allow inmates there to practice non-mainstream religious rites. In Cutter v. Wilkinson, the court said federal law mandates “No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution,” unless that practice compromises safety and security or there is some other compelling reason.
The court has upheld the right of prison officials in the past to deny inmates religious practices which involve violence, drugs or alcohol.
But the Cutter decision asserts practices such as Wicca are essentially no different than mainstream religious practices which prison officials endorse. It says they can’t discriminate against Wiccans, Satanists and others just because they aren’t mainstream.
Klein’s civil rights complaint asks a declaratory judgment that his rights have been violated and an injunction barring the prison from continuing to deny him his religious freedom.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.