Cruz v. Beto 8212 5552

Decision Date20 March 1972
Docket NumberNo. 71,71
Citation92 S.Ct. 1079,31 L.Ed.2d 263,405 U.S. 319
PartiesFred A. CRUZ v. George J. BETO, Director, Texas Department of Corrections. —5552
CourtU.S. Supreme Court


The complaint, alleging a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, states that Cruz is a Buddhist, who is in a Texas prison. While prisoners who are members of other religious sects are allowed to use the prison chapel, Cruz is not. He shared his Buddhist religious material with other prisoners and, according to the allegations, in retaliation was placed in solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water for two weeks, without access to newspapers, magazines, or other sources of news. He also alleged that he was prohibited from corresponding with his religious advisor in the Buddhist sect. Those in the isolation unit spend 22 hours a day in total idleness.

Again, according to the allegations, Texas encourages inmates to participate in other religious programs; providing at state expense chaplains of the Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant faiths, providing also at state expense copies of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, conducting weekly Sunday school classes and religious services. According to the allegations, points of good merit are given prisoners as a reward for attending orthodox religious services, those points enhancing a prisoner's eligibility for desirable job assignments and early parole consideration.1 Respondent answered, denying the allegations and moving to dismiss.

The Federal District Court, 329 F.Supp. 443, denied relief without a hearing or any findings, saying the complaint was in an area that should be left 'to the sound discretion of prison administrators.' It went on to say, 'Valid disciplinary and security reasons not known to this court may prevent the 'equality' of exercise of religious practices in prison.' The Court of Appeals affirmed. 445 F.2d 801.

Federal courts sit not to supervise prisons but to enforce the constitutional rights of all 'persons,' including prisoners. We are not unmindful that prison officialsmust be accorded latitude in the administration of prison affairs, and that prisoners necessarily are subject to appropriate rules and regulations. But persons in prison, like other individuals, have the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances which, of course, includes 'access of prisoners to the courts for the purpose of presenting their complaints.' Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485, 89 S.Ct. 747, 749, 21 L.Ed.2d 718; Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546, 549, 61 S.Ct. 640, 641, 85 L.Ed. 1034. See also Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U.S. 15, 92 S.Ct. 250, 30 L.Ed.2d 142, aff'g Gilmore v. Lynch, 319 F.Supp. 105 (ND Cal.). Moreover, racial segregation, which is unconstitutional outside prisons, is unconstitutional within prisons, save for 'the necessities of prison security and discipline.' Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333, 334, 88 S.Ct. 994, 19 L.Ed.2d 1212. Even more closely in point is Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L.Ed.2d 1030, where we reversed a dismissal of a complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We said: 'Taking as true the allegations of the complaint, as they must be on a motion to dismiss, the complaint stated a cause of action.' Ibid. The allegation made by that petitioner was that solely because of his religious religious beliefs he was denied permission to purchase certain religious publications and denied other privileges enjoyed by other prisoners.

We said in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45—46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, that 'a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'

If Cruz was a Buddhist and if he was denied a reasonable opportunity of pursuing his faith comparable to the opportunity afforded fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious precepts, then there was palpable discrimination by the State against the Buddhist religion, established 600 B.C., long before the Christian era.2 The First Amendment, applicable to the States by reason of the Fourteenth Amendment, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 492—493, 81 S.Ct. 1680, 1682, 6 L.Ed.2d 982, prohibits government from making a law 'prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).' If the allegations of this complaint are assumed to be true, as they must be on the motion to dismiss, Texas has violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. The petition for certiorari is granted, the judgment is vacated, and the cause remanded for a hearing and appropriate findings.

Vacated and remanded.

Mr. Justice BLACKMUN concurs in the result.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER, concurring in the result.

I concur in the result reached even though the allegations of the complaint are on the borderline necessary to compel an evidentiary hearing. Some of the claims alleged are frivolous; others do not present justiciable issues. There cannot possibly be any constitutional or legal requirement that the government provide materials for every religion and sect practiced in this diverse country. At most, Buddhist materials cannot be denied to prisoners if someone offers to supply them.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST, dissenting.

Unlike the Court, I am not persuaded that petitioner's complaint states a claim under the First Amendment, or that if the opinion of the Court of Appeals is vacated the trial court must necessarily conduct a trial upon the complaint. 1

Under the First Amendment, of course, Texas may neither 'establish a religion' nor may it 'impair the free exercise' thereof. Petitioner alleges that voluntary services are made available at prison facilities so that Protestants, Catholics, and Jews may attend church services of their choice. None of our prior holdings indicates that such a program on the part of prison officials amounts to the establishment of a religion.

Petitioner is a prisoner serving 15 years for robbery in a Texas penitentiary. He is understandably not as free to practice his religion as if he were outside the prison walls. But there is no intimation in his pleadings that he is being punished for his religious views, as was the case in Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L.Ed.2d 1030 (1964), where a prisoner was denied the receipt of mail about his religion. Cooper presented no question of interference with prison administration of the type that would be involved here in retaining chaplains, scheduling the use of prison facilities, and timing the activities of various prisoners.

None of our holdings under the First Amendment requires that, in addition to being allowed freedom of religious belief, prisoners be allowed freely to evangelize their views among other prisoners. There is no indication in petitioner's complaint that the prison officials have dealt more strictly with his efforts to convert other convicts to Buddhism than with efforts of communicants of other faiths to make similar conversions.

By reason of his status, petitioner is obviously limited in the extent to which he may practice his religion. He is assuredly not free to attend the church of his choice outside the prison walls. But the fact that the Texas prison system offers no Buddhist services at this particular prison does not, under the circumstances pleaded in his complaint, demonstrate that his religious freedom is being impaired. Presumably prison officials are not obligated to provide facilities for any particular denominational services within a prison, although once they undertake to provide them for some they must make only such reasonable distinctions as may survive analysis under the Equal Protection Clause.

What petitioner's basic claim amounts to is that because prison facilities are provided for denominational services for religions with more numerous followers, the failure to provide prison facilities for Buddhist services amounts to a denial of the equal protection of the laws. There is no indication from petitioner's complaint how many practicing Buddhists there are in the particular prison facility in which he is incarcerated, nor is there any indication of the demand upon available facilities for other prisoner activities. Neither the decisions of this Court after full argument, nor those summarily reversing the dismissal of a prisoner's civil rights complaint2 have ever given full consideration to the proper balance to be struck between prisoners' rights and the extensive administrative discretion that must rest with correction officials. I would apply the rule of deference to administrative discretion that has been overwhelmingly accepted in the courts of appeals.3 Failing that, I would at least hear argument as to what rule should govern.

A long line of decisions by this Court has recognized that the 'equal protection of the laws' guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment is not to be applied in a precisely equivalent way in the multitudinous fact situa- tions that may confront the courts.4 On the one hand, we have held that racial classifications are 'invidious' and 'suspect.'5 I think it quite consistent with the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, many of whom would doubtless be surprised to know that convicts came within its ambit, to treat prisoner claims at the other end of the spectrum from claims of racial discrimination. Absent a complaint alleging facts showing that the difference in treatment between petitioner and his fellow Buddhists and practitioners of denominations with more numerous adherents could not reasonably be justified under any rational hypothesis, I would leave the matter in the hands of the prison officials.6

It has been assumed that the dismissal by the trial court must be treated as proper only if the standard of Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957), would permit the grant of a motion under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 12(b)...

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