Druidism must be recognized in Department of Correction, judge rules

Druidism could soon become a formally recognized religion within the Indiana Department of Correction after a federal judge granted injunctive relief to a prisoner who claimed his religious rights were violated by the lack of communal Druid services in the DOC.

Judge James Patrick Hanlon granted a preliminary injunction Monday in Isaac Felton v. Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, in his official capacity, 1:20-cv-01253.

Isaac Felton, an inmate at the New Castle Correctional Facility, sued the DOC under both the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, claiming his religious rights were being violated because Druidism is not recognized in the Indiana prison system. He sought an injunction requiring the department to recognize Druidism as a separate and distinct religion and to allow for communal Druid worship. Druidism, also known as Druidry, is a nature-centered form of spiritualism.

The department, however, noted Felton had not been prohibited from reading “extensively” about his faith or from communication with a Druid priest. What’s more, it claimed there was not enough interest among inmates to create a communal Druid worship opportunity.

But in deciding the case only under RLUIPA, not the First Amendment, Hanlon held that “the IDOC’s restrictions infringe on and substantially burden Mr. Felton’s religious exercise rights protected by RLUIPA resulting in irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”

“It is undisputed that the IDOC allows communal worship services for several religions but not for followers of Druidism,” Hanlon wrote. “… Mr. Felton argues and provides evidence that communal worship and religious study are vitally important tenets to Druidism.”

Hanlon held that Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U.S. 352, 358 (2015), “forecloses the Commissioner’s argument that Mr. Felton can adequately practice his religion with self-study and corresponding with a Druid priest.” In Holt, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “whether other forms of religious practice have been provided is not relevant to the ‘substantially burdened’ test under RLUIPA.”

Further, the DOC did not provide evidence to support its arguments that there is not enough inmate interest to support communal Druid worship. Felton, however, “designated evidence that he previously was in a group with other Druids, thus demonstrating that there likely are other inmates who practice Druidism and who would likely attend communal services if offered.”

“The Commissioner has not demonstrated harm that would occur if two or more inmates are allowed opportunities to engage in communal worship or religious study,” the judge wrote. “The harm to Mr. Felton … is presumed to be an irreparable injury. Therefore, this final balancing test clearly favors Mr. Felton.”

In granting the preliminary injunction, Hanlon ordered the parties to submit an agreed proposed preliminary injunction, or separate proposals if an agreement cannot be reached, within 14 days of the Monday order.

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