Inmates in Prime Eclipse Path Sue for a Viewing

New York state prisoners say lockdown violates religious rights to witness the celestial event
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 2, 2024 7:10 AM CDT
Inmates in Prime Eclipse Path Sue for a Viewing
In this image, the International Space Station is silhouetted against the sun during a solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, as seen from Ross Lake, in North Cascades National Park in Washington state.   (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP, File)

Inmates in New York are suing the state corrections department over the decision to lock down prisons during next Monday's total solar eclipse. The suit filed Friday in federal court in upstate New York argues that the April 8 lockdown violates inmates' constitutional rights to practice their faiths by preventing them from taking part in a religiously significant event. The plaintiffs are six men with varying religious backgrounds who are incarcerated at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne, per the AP. They include a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-day Adventist, and two practitioners of Santeria, as well as an atheist.

"A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many," the complaint reads, noting that Bible passages describe an eclipse-like phenomenon during Jesus' crucifixion, while sacred Islamic works describe a similar event when the Prophet Muhammad's son died. The celestial event, which was last visible in the US in 2017 and won't be seen in the country again until 2044, "[warrants] gathering, celebration, worship, and prayer," the complaint reads. The lawsuit states that one of the named plaintiffs, an atheist, received special permission last month to view the eclipse using glasses that would be provided by the state, but that was before the systemwide lockdown was issued.

Four of the other plaintiffs subsequently sought permission but were denied by officials who ruled the solar eclipse isn't listed as a holy day for their religions, the lawsuit states. The sixth inmate said he never received a response. A corrections department rep said all requests for religious accommodations that are related to viewing the eclipse are currently under review. Daniel Martuscello III, the department's acting commissioner, issued a memo March 11 announcing that all state correctional facilities will operate on a holiday schedule next Monday. That means incarcerated individuals will remain in their housing units except for emergency situations from 2pm to 5pm local time, which is generally when inmates have outdoor recreation in prisons, per the lawsuit. More here.

(More solar eclipse stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.