Utah Prisoner Awarded $200 for Violation of Religious Rights

By Prison Legal News

A federal district court awarded $200 to a Utah prisoner who sued on the grounds that prison officials interfered with his right to freely exercise his religion. However, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed part of the prisoner’s appeal because he did not adequately brief some of his claims, and held that another claim was moot.

Danny Lee Warner, Jr. alleged that while he was held at the Utah State Prison, officials denied various requests that he said were necessary to practice his religion. Warner is a follower of Odinism, also known as Asatru and Odhvegr, which is a faith based on Norse mythology.

He asked for accommodations that included a metal or wood thorshammer medallion, wood runes, a wooden bowl and an altar cloth. In denying his requests, prison officials cited security concerns. Warner also alleged that for Winter Nights, an Odinist holiday period lasting several weeks, he was denied break-the-fast boxes (boxed meals to eat after sunset). Further, prison officials refused to allow him access to a publication due to a ban on all materials from the publisher, National Vanguard Press.

Warner filed suit alleging that prison officials had violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, as well as his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protect and due process. His lawsuit also claimed violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) based on the denial of his request for break-the-fast boxes and the publication ban.

At the time the district court ruled on Warner’s motion for summary judgment he had been transferred to the Florence Correctional Center in Arizona. Nonetheless, he proceeded on the grounds that he would be returned to Utah for incarceration at some point in the future. His lawsuit named the defendants in their official and individual capacities, and sought an injunction to prevent them from continuing to violate his rights.

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