White Supremist Religion Can’t Dictate Cellmate Race

A white prison inmate cannot demand to be housed with another white cellmate as an accommodation to his religious beliefs, a federal appeals court says.

The 9th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals Friday rejected inmate Dennis Walker’s claim that as an Aryan Christian Odinist , assignment of a non-white cellmate would violation his Constitutional First Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (RLUIPA.)

The appeals court rejected both claims.

Walker argued the tenets of his Aryan faith prohibit him from associating with people who aren’t Aryan and require him to engage in a “warding” ritual, which can only be perform in the presence of white people.

Walker requested prison officials accommodate his religious beliefs by assigning only an Aryan cellmate.  The prison refused.

The state explained its policy as having a strong presumption that an inmate is “racially eligible” to have a cellmate without regard to race.  It limits some prisoners to “restricted to own,” meaning the same race cellmate, if the prisoner has a history of violence against another race or has been the victim of racial violence.

Prior to 2005, California has a race-based celling policy, which was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Johnson v California.

Subsequently, the state prisons adopted a system of integrating inmates and anyone eligible, who refuses a cellmate of a different race, will be disciplined.

“Dennis Walker is a devout racist,” Judge Wallace Tashima wrote. However, he pointed out the “warding” ritual “plainly meets” the standards as a valid religious exercise.

“Although Odinism is not a mainstream faith, RLUIPA does not, and constitutionally could not, pick favorites among religions,” he said.

Tashima also said that while the policy burdened Walker’s religious exercise, the state had a compelling interest to enforce a race neutral celling policy.

“Were the state to begin exempting prisoners from race-neutral celling on the basis of their religious beliefs, its celling system would not be race-neutral,” he said.  “

Granting an exemption would be a race-conscious action implicating the Equal Protection Clause, “so the only way to avert potential constitutional liability was to deny the requested exemption,” he said.

Chief Judge Sidney Thomas and Judge Margaret McKeown joined Tashima.

Case: Walker v. Beard, No. 12-17460


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