291 F.2d 196 (4th Cir. 1961), 8286, Sewell v. Pegelow

Docket Nº:8286, 8287.
Citation:291 F.2d 196
Party Name:Theodore X. A. SEWELL, Appellant, v. Paul F. PEGELOW, etc., et al., Appellees. Joseph W. WATSON, Appellant, v. Paul F. PEGELOW, etc., et al., Appellees.
Case Date:May 31, 1961
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 196

291 F.2d 196 (4th Cir. 1961)

Theodore X. A. SEWELL, Appellant,

v.

Paul F. PEGELOW, etc., et al., Appellees.

Joseph W. WATSON, Appellant,

v.

Paul F. PEGELOW, etc., et al., Appellees.

Nos. 8286, 8287.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

May 31, 1961

Argued April 6, 1961.

George Blow, Washington, D.C. (court-assigned counsel), for appellants.

Harvey B. Cohen, Asst. U.S. Atty., Arlington, Va. (Joseph S. Bambacus, U.S. Atty., Richmond, Va., on brief), for appellees.

Before SOBELOFF, Chief Judge, HAYNSWORTH, Circuit Judge, and HARRY E. WATKINS, District Judge.

SOBELOFF, Chief Judge.

Sewell and Watson are inmates of the United States Reformatory at Lorton, Virginia, an institution maintained for prisoners sentenced by the courts of the District of Columbia. The filed complaints in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over the place of their detention, alleging that solely because of their religious beliefs, and for no other

Page 197

reason, they were isolated and deprived of certain constitutional and statutory rights and discriminatively treated by the superintendent and his assistants. The relief which they prayed was an order restraining and enjoining the officials from continuing the harassment and infringement of their constitutional and civil rights specified in the complaints.

Without requiring the officials to show cause or answer, and without holding a hearing, the District Court dismissed the complaints, stating that it was without jurisdiction to entertain the petition because the matters alleged relate to the discipline and conduct of the internal affairs of the Reformatory, which are exclusively within the authority of the Executive Department.

The two complaints, which closely parallel each other in their essential allegations, may be briefly summarized. They recite that the appellants are Negroes professing Islam and are known as Muslims, but on the appeal they stress that religion, rather than race, was the basis of the claimed discriminations and deprivations. They charge that all the Muslims in the institution, of whom there were thirty-eight at the time, were put in isolation and deprived of institutional privileges, including medical attention. The complainants allege that they violated no disciplinary rules or regulations, and that for no reason other than their religion they were kept for 90 days in isolation in the Disciplinary Control Building, where they were provided only 'one teaspoon of food for eating (and) a slice of bread at each meal three times per day.' It is further alleged that although the floor of the cell was concrete the complainants were permitted to have a blanket and mattress only between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. This mistreatment, the complaints repeat, was due solely to the hostility entertained by the prison officials toward persons of the Muslim faith. They cite, for example, that they are forbidden to wear medals symbolic of their faith while 'that privilege is accorded to Catholics, Baptists, etc.'; that unlike prisoners of other faiths, they are denied all opportunity to communicate with their religious advisers, recite their prayers or...

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