Knowles v. Pfister

The plaintiff, a prisoner and a Wiccan, was denied permission to wear a “pentacle medallion,”a five-pointed silver star set in a circle less than an inch in diameter. The pentacle medallion is to the Wiccan religion what the cross is to many Christians. Plaintiff’s medallion was small enough to comply with prison regulations regarding jewelry; the day after issuing him a jewelry retention permit, the prison confiscated the medallion. In plaintiff’s suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc–1, the warden argued that the Illinois Department of Corrections prohibits inmates from possessing “five and six-point star symbols” because they are usable as gang identifiers. Without addressing the merits of the suit or the defense, the district judge denied a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that RLUIPA’s “substantial burden” inquiry asks whether the government has substantially burdened religious exercise, not whether the claimant is able to engage in other forms of religious exercise. The court noted that the plaintiff is willing to wear his medallion under his shirt whenever he’s outside his cell to protect himself from being identified as a gang member and had tendered an affidavit from another Wiccan prisoner, who attested that he has worn his medallion in maximum security prisons since 1998 without experiencing threats or violence. View "Knowles v. Pfister" on Justia Law