Court Grants Defendants Summary Judgment on Inmate’s RLUIPA Claims

September 11, 2018

On September 4, 2018, Judge Colin Bruce granted summary judgment in favor of Kankakee County and jail officials in Thompson v. Bukowski, et. al., No. 16-2390 (C.D. Ill. 9/4/2018). In Thompson, a jail inmate had complained that the jail had not provided him and other Muslim inmates with religious services at the jail but that Christian inmates had access to weekly religious services. Thompson also complained that he was not allowed a prayer rug and that Islamic magazines had been taken from his cell during cell shakedowns. Thompson argued that the jail had violated both his First Amendment rights to practice his religion and also the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), which provides even greater freedom for inmates who want to practice their religion while incarcerated.

A jail inmate suing under RLUIPA must show that the jail’s actions substantially burdened his right to exercise his religion and that the jail seriously violated the inmate’s religious beliefs. The Court recognized that the Seventh Circuit had only found that an act or restriction was substantially burdening of religion if it made the inmate’s religious exercise “effectively impracticable.” Applying this standard to Thompson’s claim, the Court found that the jail had not substantially burdened Thompson’s religious practice. The Court noted that defendants had attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to recruit an Imam to provide religious services for Muslim inmates and the law only required “reasonable efforts” by jail officials. The law also did not require that officials provide clergy for adherents of all religions. Moreover, the Court recognized that officials at the jail had provided free Korans to inmates and had also allowed inmates to gather informally for prayer services. Thompson himself acknowledged that he participated in numerous prayer services with other Muslim inmates during his incarceration and that inmates were given extra towels which they used in lieu of more formal prayer rugs. Finally, the Court noted that any confiscations of Muslim publications from Thompson’s cell during his incarceration was de minimis, particularly since Thompson had received his religious magazines during his most recent incarceration at the jail, in 2016 and 2017. Michael Condon and Jason Rose represented Kankakee County and the individual defendants in the case.

Thompson v. Bukowski, et. al.

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