New York Quakers sue to reinstate meetings at Green Haven Prison
On September 18, 2018, Green Haven Preparative Meeting and related Quaker plaintiffs sued the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The suit, filed by attorney Frederick Dettmer, a member of Purchase (N.Y.) Meeting, alleges that the termination of quarterly and business meetings by DOCCS violates the constitutional and statutory rights of the Quaker prisoners to practice their religion without government interference and asks for these meetings to be reinstated.
“This case is not being brought to recover monetary damages,” Dettmer told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “It’s being brought to recover the right to practice of the inmates in Green Haven and of the Friends in the community around it. . . . It was the outside Quakers’ opportunity to worship with the inside Quakers.”
According to the official complaint, “Green Haven Meeting has served as religious home for inmates at Green Haven Correctional Facility seeking Quaker worship, fellowship, and community since 1976.” Green Haven Friends had been gathering three times a week: for meeting for worship, for a book club, and for meeting for worship for the conduct of business. Also, since at least 1980, quarterly meetings were held at Green Haven, filling a Saturday with worship, business, fellowship, and workshops; the event also included Friends from the surrounding community who could not come to the other meetings. Currently there are eight incarcerated individuals registered with Green Haven Meeting, including Yohannes Johnson whose article is featured in this issue of Friends Journal (page 6).
Don Badgley, co-clerk of Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting and a co-plaintiff in the suit, had been attending quarterly meeting for several years when they were canceled in 2015. He told the Poughkeepsie Journal that quarterly meetings were “an opportunity for us to do a broader kind of ministry with the men who are members inside the prison.” He said that having quarterly meeting canceled violated not only inmates’ rights but his right to practice his religion by visiting those in prison.
In 2012, Green Haven members within the Green Haven Correctional Facility sought to have their quarterly meetings listed on the DOCCS calendar of religious holidays. Their request was not fulfilled, and further, in 2015, they were told that their quarterly meetings were being canceled as the “one Protestant family event was . . . Pentecost,” meaning Quakers were lumped in with the 19 other Protestant groups. In July 2018, their meetings for business were also canceled, in apparent retaliation for attempting to have quarterly meetings reinstated.
Dettmer believes the case will be resolved within 2019.