Court refuses to reinstate Quaker practices at New York’s Green Haven Prison

Stock photo by GioRez

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling on October 18 that denies a preliminary injunction sought by New York Yearly Meeting, four regional and monthly meetings, and ten individual Quakers to restore Quaker practices at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, N.Y. The Quaker plaintiffs will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal while the underlying case proceeds at the District Court.

The decision takes away religious liberties of the incarcerated and non-incarcerated, according to attorney Frederick Dettmer, a member of Purchase (N.Y.) Meeting who filed the original lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). Dettmer commented that the decision limits the abilities of Friends to continue their prison ministry. It also demeans the Quaker community by dismissing their religious motives and calling them intransigent for seeking to restore previous religious practices.

The original suit was filed in response to limitations that the prison placed on Friends in Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting. Friends in the Hudson Valley Region had gathered in the prison with the participants in Green Haven Preparative Meeting annually without incident since 1980. But in 2015, quarterly meetings were canceled, and prison officials unilaterally scheduled a non-Quaker substitute program. The Department of Corrections told the Quakers that they must celebrate Pentecost, together with 19 Protestant faiths, as their one annual special event. Then in 2018, prison officials also terminated the weekly meetings for worship with a concern for business that Green Haven Preparative Meeting had held for 30 years.

The Second Circuit refused to restore either the quarterly meetings or the meetings for worship with a concern for business. The Court said that the Quaker meetings did not have the right to challenge the termination of meetings for worship with a concern for business and suffered mere “inconvenience” from the prison officials’ actions ending the quarterly meetings.

FJ News Editor

Erik Hanson and Windy Cooler are the news editors for Friends Journal. They contributed to the reporting of this story. Do you know about any Quaker news stories we should be covering? Send us tips at news@friendsjournal.org.

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