372 F.3d 979 (8th Cir. 2004), 02-3874, Murphy v. Missouri Dept. of Corrections

Docket Nº:02-3874.
Citation:372 F.3d 979
Party Name:Michael Dunham MURPHY, Appellant, v. MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; Winfrey Dickerson; Dora B. Schriro; Elijah Nagbe; Steve Long; Michael Kemna, Appellees.
Case Date:June 22, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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372 F.3d 979 (8th Cir. 2004)

Michael Dunham MURPHY, Appellant,


MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; Winfrey Dickerson; Dora B. Schriro; Elijah Nagbe; Steve Long; Michael Kemna, Appellees.

No. 02-3874.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 22, 2004

Submitted: Jan. 12, 2004.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Aug. 2, 2004.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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William E. Raney, Kansas City, MO, argued, for appellant.

Dustin J. Allison, Assistant Attorney General, Jefferson City, MO, argued, for appellee.


WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Michael Murphy appeals from the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees on his claims brought under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 and under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. We affirm in part and reverse in part.


Murphy is incarcerated at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri. He is a practicing member of the Christian Separatist Church Society (CSC), a religious group that holds as a central tenet the belief that its members must all be Caucasian because they are uniquely blessed by God and must separate themselves from all non-Caucasian persons. Murphy seeks formal recognition and group worship accommodation for CSC within the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) and contends that MDOC has discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs.

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Murphy pursued recognition and accommodation for CSC by following MDOC procedure and filling out a "Request for Accommodation of Religious Practices" in July 2000. MDOC granted members of CSC solitary practitioner accommodation, but denied group worship as an accommodation. MDOC contends that its decision was necessary to preserve security and to reduce the likelihood of racial violence, which, according to prison officials, can be easily fueled by racial separation and inflammatory rhetoric. Solitary practitioner accommodation entitles a prisoner to practice his religion privately in his cell, to keep a sacred religious text, to receive other literature, subject to correctional center procedures and censorship guidelines, to have access to clergy visits, to adjust activities in order to observe holy days, and to wear a religious symbol, subject to certain guidelines. In support of its decision to limit CSC to solitary practitioner status, MDOC emphasizes the need for flexibility when it comes to prison security concerns and notes that it acted in a manner consistent with MDOC's policy of not allowing exclusion from religious services based on race. Policy IS17-1.1 § III.G.1.

Murphy filed a pro se complaint requesting injunctive and monetary relief. He claims that he was improperly denied privileges that have been given to other separatist groups, including communal worship, religious funding and institutional TV air time for religious videos. He also argues that a certain piece of mail, Issue 36 of a religious publication called The Way, was improperly censored.


We review de novo a grant of summary judgment. Evergreen Invs., LLC v. FCL Graphics, Inc., 334 F.3d 750, 753 (8th Cir. 2003). Summary judgment is proper if, after viewing the evidence and construing it in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If the moving party has presented evidence establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to provide evidence demonstrating that a genuine issue of material fact does in fact exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). We consider only admissible evidence and disregard portions of various affidavits and depositions that were made without personal knowledge, consisted of hearsay, or purported to state legal conclusions as fact. See Shaver v. Independent Stave Co., 350 F.3d 716, 723 (8th Cir. 2003); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

Although prisoners retain their constitutional rights, limitations may be placed on the exercise of those rights in light of the needs of the penal system. Constitutional claims that would otherwise receive strict scrutiny analysis if raised by a member of the general population are evaluated under a lesser standard of scrutiny in the context of a prison setting. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 81, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987). A prison regulation or action is valid, therefore, even if it restricts a prisoner's constitutional rights if it is "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner, 482 U.S. at 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254. Turner sets forth four factors that courts should consider in making that determination. First, we ask whether there is a "valid rational connection" between the prison regulation and the government interest justifying it. Id. at 89-90, 107 S.Ct. 2254. Second, we consider whether there is an alternative means available to the prison inmates to exercise the right. Id. at 90, 107 S.Ct. 2254. Third, we examine whether an accommodation

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would have "a significant 'ripple effect' " on the guards, other inmates, and prison resources. Id. Fourth, we evaluate whether there is an alternative that fully accommodates the prisoner "at de minimis cost to valid penological interests." Id. at 90-91, 107 S.Ct. 2254.

Murphy raises four constitutional claims in his section 1983 action: A free exercise of religion claim, an establishment clause claim, an equal protection claim, and a free speech claim. He raises an independent statutory claim under RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, which is subject to review under a different standard.


Murphy contends that MDOC violated his First Amendment free-exercise right when it refused to grant CSC the accommodation of group worship rights.1 In analyzing this claim, we consider first the threshold issue of whether the challenged governmental action "infringes upon a sincerely held religious belief," Hamilton v. Schriro, 74 F.3d 1545, 1550 (8th Cir. 1996), and then apply the Turner factors to determine if the regulation restricting the religious practice is "reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives." O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 353, 107 S.Ct. 2400, 96 L.Ed.2d 282 (1987). We accord great deference to the judgment and expertise of prison officials, "particularly with respect to decisions that implicate institutional security." Goff v. Graves, 362 F.3d 543, 549 (8th Cir. 2004).

Whether or not group worship is a sincerely held religious belief is a factual determination, so we must not quickly dismiss such claims on summary judgment by concluding that those beliefs are not genuine. See Ochs v. Thalacker, 90 F.3d 293, 296 (8th Cir. 1996). For purposes of summary judgment, then, we assume that Murphy's belief that group worship is necessary to his faith is genuine.

Applying the first factor of the Turner reasonableness test, we find that the decision not to grant CSC group worship rights was rationally connected to MDOC's legitimate interest in safety and security. MDOC stated that its decision about CSC was based on security concerns because racial segregation will spark violence. Institutional security is "the most compelling government interest in a prison setting," Goff, 362 F.3d at 549 (citing Ochs, 90 F.3d at 296), and security is particularly important in dealing with group activities because of the potential for riots and the extensive damage resulting therefrom.

Applying the second Turner factor, we conclude that there are sufficient alternative means for a member of the CSC faith to practice his faith without group worship. A prisoner need not be afforded his preferred means of practicing his religion as long as he is afforded sufficient means to do so. See Hammons v. Saffle, 348 F.3d 1250, 1256 (10th Cir. 2003). In O'Lone, the Supreme Court concluded that Muslim prisoners had alternative means of exercising their religion, even though a regulation made it impossible to practice a particular Muslim ritual. O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 352, 107 S.Ct. 2400. Here, although he cannot participate in group worship, as a solitary practitioner Murphy can still study the scriptures and CSC materials, pray, occasionally meet with CSC clergy, observe holy days, and worship in other ways. He can also communicate with individual fellow CSC members through permitted

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inmate interactions, though not in a formalized group study.

The other two Turner factors also support the conclusion that MDOC's restriction on group worship was reasonable. A decision by MDOC to accommodate CSC and grant group worship rights would place increased demands on correctional staff and could lead to even greater division and violence among all the prisoners. In addition, there are no obvious, easy alternatives to solitary practitioner status that would further both CSC members' interest in group worship and MDOC's interest in preventing escalated security concerns and costs. Accordingly, in light of the deferential standard of review established by Turner, we conclude that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to appellees on Murphy's free exercise claim.


Murphy argues that MDOC has violated his equal protection rights as a CSC member because it has not applied in an equal manner its policy of refusing segregated groups group worship privileges. He argues that MDOC discriminatorily treated CSC member requests differently from the requests of other separatist religious groups that have been recognized and accommodated with group worship time. Appellees respond that they have treated Murphy and CSC members differently because CSC is not in fact similarly situated to other racially polarized...

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