Notre Dame, IN — A Rastafarian man was forcibly held in a Louisiana correctional facility and shaved completely bald in violation of his religious beliefs. His case underscores the importance of interpreting religious freedom laws to provide adequate legal remedies to protect the rights of religious minorities in prison.
That Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case Landor v. Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety yesterday, representing Bruderhof, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish groups. The brief alleges that monetary damages should be considered “reasonable relief” under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). in the landowner, plaintiff Damon Landor, a devout Rastafarian, had his religious rights stripped away by state officials when he was forced to trim his dreadlocks in violation of his sincere religious beliefs. Landor has since been released from prison and is seeking damages from state officials who have threatened his religious rights.
Legal Fellow of the Religious Liberty Clinic Francesca Matozzo explained: “This case is a particularly egregious example of why injunctive relief is not enough to ensure prisons respect the religious rights of their inmates. The Fifth Circuit has already notified the Louisiana prison system that its care policy violates RLUIPA. And yet, without the ability to seek money for this wrong, Landor would have no way of holding prison accountable for his actions.”
Landor was jailed in the summer of 2020. He grew his dreadlocks for 20 years after taking the Nazarite vow of separation, an ancient biblical oath commanding the Nazarites to grow their hair long in devotion to the Lord. During his first five months of incarceration, he was held at two facilities – St. Tammany Parish Detention Center and LaSalle Correctional Center – both allowing him to keep his dreadlocks as an expression of his faith.
On December 28, 2020, three weeks before his release, Landor was transferred to Raymond Laborde Correctional Center. Although he stated that he was a Rastafarian and that his dreadlocks represented a protected form of religious expression; provided several federal and state forms establishing his right to religious housing; Landor gives the guard a copy of the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision in a previous case, which found that the Department of Justice’s grooming policy against dreadlocks violated RLUIPA when applied to devout Rastafarians. Landor alleges that the officer conducting Landor’s admission interview ordered him to be handcuffed to a chair, forcibly held down, and completely shaved bald.
Landor claims that after this incident of physical and mental humiliation, he faced further punishment; He was jailed where he remained for the next three weeks until his release on January 20, 2021. Each day he was incarcerated, Landor requested a complaint form so he could file a complaint. The prison refused.
The clinic’s mission highlights the importance of providing robust support to vulnerable religious minorities in prison.
Stephanie BarclayDirector of Notre Dame Religious Freedom Initiative said: “Religious minorities suffer disproportionately from restrictions on their religious practice. Prisons have less incentive to adjust unaccommodating policies or update training to address minority religions because they rarely incarcerate a prisoner of that faith. Otherwise, religious minorities will be subjected to abuses that majority religions are not. At worst, these groups face hostility, skepticism, or discrimination because their practices are less well known.”
“Of course,” she continued, “prisons are not expected to have a thorough knowledge of all minority religious practices. But they must take requests for religious housing seriously, rather than relying on ignorance to deny minorities the opportunity to practice.”
The amicus brief was submitted on behalf of the Sikh coalitiona non-profit organization dedicated to enabling members of the Sikh community to practice their faith; Bruderhof communities, a willful community of Christians persecuted for conscientious objection in Nazi Germany; the Jewish Coalition for Religious Freedom (JCRL), a non-denominational organization of Jewish community and lay leaders seeking to protect the ability of all Americans to freely practice their faith; and CLEAR (“Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility”), a project at the City University of New York School of Law that protects Muslim and all other communities in the New York City area targeted by law enforcement under the guise of national security and counterterrorism will.
“The violation of the free exercise of belief through righteous religious practices is a particular concern for people of small or lesser-known faith groups. This fundamental right applies to everyone and is too precious to be protected only for powerful majorities. That’s why we count on courts to hold officials accountable,” he said John HuleattHead of the legal department of the Bruderhof.
“It is common sense as a matter of textual interpretation that the Use of Religious Land and Institutionalized Persons Act should be construed to allow for financial harm, just like its sister law, the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act,” he added Howard SlughGeneral Counsel at JCLR.
“We appreciate this opportunity to update the Fifth Circuit on why this case is important to religious minorities in general and Jewish Americans in particular. We are very proud to do this together with a religiously diverse coalition of our friends and neighbors. The Jewish Coalition for Religious Freedom could not function without the generosity and incredible work of our friends and allies. We are very grateful to the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative for making sure our voice is heard on this important matter,” Slough concluded.
Notre Dame students Jared Huber and Athanasius Sirilla contributed to the briefing alongside Matozzo and Barclay.
“Being able to play a role in protecting the rights of even minority religions is why I came to law school,” said Huber, a 2L in his freshman year at the clinic. “Mr. Landor’s case represents an incredible opportunity to get involved in promoting the protection of religious freedom by arguing that egregious violations of religious belief or practice should have an adequate remedy. While working on this report, I was surprised to learn of the great ignorance of minority religious practices in prisons and of the strategies they employ to avoid remedying religious violations I hope that Mr Landor’s case serves to address injustices like the one he has experienced , to reduce.”
Landor v Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety is the third case the Religious Freedom Clinic is taking up this fall defending the right of imprisoned minorities to practice their faith. Read more about the work of the clinic in Emad vs. Dodge County and Walker vs Baldwin.
Contact: Anna Bradley, Program Manager, Religious Freedom Initiative, 574-631-6003, [email protected]
Founded in 2020, Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Freedom Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for all people through advocacy, education and thought leadership. The initiative protects individuals’ freedom to hold religious beliefs and their right to practice, express and live by those beliefs.
The Religious Liberty Clinic has represented individuals and organizations from a range of faith traditions to defend the right to religious worship, protect sacred lands from destruction, promote freedom to choose religious ministers, and prevent discrimination against religious schools and families.
Learn more about the Religious Freedom Initiative at law.nd.edu/RLI.