ABA Journal

Inmates in New York are suing to be allowed to see the solar eclipse

New York inmates are suing the state over its plan to lockdown prisons during next week’s solar eclipse, alleging that in barring them from viewing the rare phenomenon, the corrections department is stripping them of their constitutional right to exercise their religion.

The six plaintiffs in the class-action suit filed Friday, who are Christian, Muslim, Santerian and atheist, are asking a judge to allow them to see the celestial event, arguing it has religious significance. Some said it is critical to their practice of their faith—because the Bible describes the sun going dark during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, because Muslims perform a special prayer upon the eclipse and because it is important in the Santeria faith to make a spiritual offering.

“Watching the eclipse with the people I know here is a way for me to feel closer to God,” wrote Travis Hudson, a Protestant Baptist, in a statement attached to the lawsuit, which was filed in a northern New York federal court against the top leaders of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Monday’s total solar eclipse, the second in the United States in seven years and the first one in New York in nearly a century, has caused a flurry of excitement nationwide. More than 31 million people will be able to see the eclipse outside their homes, as the air suddenly cools, birds fall silent and nocturnal animals begin to stir. Millions more plan to travel to see it firsthand, fueling a small spending boom and a potential path of gridlock across the country.

Those incarcerated at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in New York say they should be allowed to view it, too. They filed the suit Friday, after DOCCS acting commissioner Daniel F. Martuscello III last month announced plans to lock prisoners in their housing units from 2 to 5 p.m. on April 8 and prohibit them from watching the eclipse in the yard, citing safety concerns.

“Religious freedom is at the heart of not only our constitution, but our shared humanity,” Madeline Byrd, one of the attorneys representing the inmates, said in a statement. “This historic eclipse is religiously significant to people of many different faiths, and we are fighting for everyone’s right to observe it.”

To read the rest of the article click here.