Ferguson, In re

Decision Date24 April 1961
Docket NumberCr. 6799
Citation12 Cal.Rptr. 753,361 P.2d 417,55 Cal.2d 663
Parties, 361 P.2d 417 In re FERGUSON et al., on Habeas Corpus.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Joseph A. DeChristoforo, Sacramento, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for petitioners.

Stanley Mosk, Atty. Gen., Doris H. Maier and Richard D. Lee, Deputy Attys. Gen., for respondent.

WHITE, Justice.

This is a petition in propria persona for a writ of habeas corpus by Jesse L. Ferguson and nine other inmates confined in Folsom State Prison pursuant to judgments, the validity of which are not herein questioned. The petition principally seeks the removal of restrictions place upon petitioners' claimed religious activities in prison, and the right to communicate with an attorney concerning alleged illegal restraints by the prison officials, unrelated to the judgments of incarceration. Our order to show cause issued, and counsel was appointed to represent petitioners before this court.

According to their allegations, petitioners are members of the Muslim Religious Group. They believe in the solidarity and supremacy of the dark-skinned races, and that integration of white and dark races is impossible since contrary to the laws of God and nature. They appear to be strongly convinced of the truth of their form of what they characterize as a religious belief and in its superiority over other religions. Concerning their relationship to the prison officials, petitioners state that 'It is a maxim Dogma and order of our God that we kneel to no one except him. Because we as a religious group do not kneel before some one (who) does not believe in our God.'

The general policy of the Department of Corrections is to encourage religious activities by inmates. Sometime prior to February 1958, the Director of Corrections considered the question of whether the Muslims should be classified as a religious group. It was determined that they were not entitled to be accorded the privileges of a religious group or sect at that time. Such is the present policy of the Department of Corrections toward Muslims, and this policy was approved by the State Advisory Committee on Institutional Religion in January 1961. Other religious groups are allowed to pursue religious activities, but the Muslims are not allowed to engage in their claimed religious practices.

There appears to be considerable friction between the prison officials and the Muslim inmates as individuals and as a group. On August 16, 1960, two prison officials found it necessary to search two Muslim inmates for contraband. The officials were soon surrounded by approximately 20 of the Muslim group, who manifested much hostility and a desire to protect their two 'Brothers' from interference by the prison officials. A number of the Muslims who had gathered were ordered to report to the Captain's office where they were questioned. According to the report of a prison official, 'All of those questioned looked down their noses at those present as if we were a very small piece of refuse.' At the close of the interview, petitioner Mitchell refused to leave and as an officer attempted to remove him, Mitchell told him 'to get his 'stinking hands' off him as no white devil was allowed to put his hands on a Muslim.' Mitchell was forced to the floor so he could be handcuffed and removed from the office. Petitioner Johnson thereafter lunged at one of the officers, and he was also forcibly subdued and removed from the Captain's office.

On August 21, 1960, petitioner Ferguson attempted to contact a Los Angeles attorney concerning alleged violations of the rights of the Muslim inmates while in Folsom prison, but it appears that the letter was not allowed to be transmitted to the attorney. Ferguson again sought help on August 28, 1960, by writing to his mother, with directions to take the letter to a specified address. The letter to his mother was also confiscated, and Ferguson was punished for abuse of the mail privilege. In the opinion of the prison officials the letter to his mother contained derogatory remarks about the prison officials. Ferguson stated in the letter to his mother that the prison officials had advised him that his letter to the attorney 'Is being returned in your central file, and he is (not) an approved correspondent of yours and you will not be permitted to write to him. The charges you state in your letter are also untrue and we will not permit you to make such statements, criticizing officials of this institution.' Ferguson continued: 'Now mother what this man forgot, was that this letter I wrote to Mr. Berry. It was legal and he is a lawyer. And I have the right by law to write to a lawyer when it is about law.'

It is alleged that in October 1960 and on three subsequent occasions, petitioner Haynes attempted to purchase the 'Muslim Bible,' the 'Holy Qur'an.' He was advised that the book had been disapproved by the associate warden, and he was told to refrain from persisting in his efforts to obtain a book that could not be approved. It also appears that a major portion of the Muslim religious literature has been confiscated by prison authorities. Specifically, it appears that on October 10, 1960, petitioner Ferguson's Muslim religious scrapbook was confiscated by the prison officials when it was found in the possession of inmate Jones. Jones, who is not a petitioner, would not disclose the ownership of the scrapbook, and it was subsequently destroyed as contraband. In his report of the incident the correctional officer stated that 'This book consisted of the usual 'Muslim' trash, advocating hatred of the white race, superiority of the black man, * * *.'

On November 1, 1960, petitioner Ferguson refused to obey an order given by a prison official. He then grabbed the official by the wrist and necktie, and subsequently he became abusive and belligerent toward other officers in refusing to submit to a routine search of his person. It was necessary to physically subdue him in order to accomplish the search,

Penal Code, section 1473 provides that 'Every person unlawfully imprisoned or restrained of his liberty, under any pretense whatever, may prosecute a writ of habeas corpus, to inquire into the cause of such imprisonment or restraint.' Penal Code, section 1484 provides that 'The party brought before the Court or Judge, on the return of the writ, may * * * allege any fact to show either that his imprisonment or detention is unlawful, or that he is entitled to his discharge.' And section 1485 of the Penal Code provides that 'If no legal cause is shown for such imprisonment or restraint, or for the continuation thereof such Court or Judge must discharge such party from the custody or restraint under which he is held.' Concerning Penal Code, section 1473, the court stated in In re Rider, 50 Cal.App. 797, 801, 195 P. 965, 966, that 'We think that a person may be said to be unlawfully 'restrained of his liberty,' so as to be entitled to the writ of habeas corpus, when, though (lawfully) in custody, he is deprived of some right to which, even in his confinement, he is lawfully entitled under the Constitution or laws of this state or the United States, the deprivation whereof serves to make his imprisonment more onerous than the law allows, or curtails, to a greater extent than the law permits even in his confinement, his freedom to go when and where he likes.' We stated in In re Chessman, 44 Cal.2d 1, 9, 279 P.2d 24, 29, that 'The writ of habeas corpus has been allowed to one lawfully in custody as a means of enforcing rights to which, in his confinement, he is entitled.' It thus appears that a writ of habeas corpus may be sought to inquire into alleged illegal restraints upon a prisoner's activities which are not related to the validity of the judgment or judgments of incarceration, but which relate 'solely to a matter of prison administration.' In re Chessman, supra, 44 Cal.2d 1, 3-4, 5-6, 9, 279 P.2d 24, 26.

Petitioners contend that their rights to religious freedom under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and that their rights to 'The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, * * *' under article I, section 4, of the California Constitution, have been denied by the prison officials. They allege that they are not allowed a place to worship, that their religious meetings are broken up, often by force, that they are not allowed to discuss their religious doctrines, that they are not allowed to possess an adequate amount of their religious literature, and that their religious leaders are not allowed to visit them in prison. They allege that Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Christian Scientist groups are allowed the above enumerated privileges. Petitioners seek to be permitted religious privileges equal to those allowed to the other prison religious groups, or that religious privileges be denied to all prison religious groups of whatever faith, or, that they be discharged from prison so they may pursue the beliefs and practices of their Muslim faith.

Respondent admits that the above restrictions have been enforced only against the petitioners and other Muslim inmates, but claims that the discriminatory treatment is justified because: 'In the petitioners' case, the Director determined that the principles petitioners allegedly espoused were in direct conflict with the health, safety, welfare and morals of the prison. * * * Petitioners, by their acts in rejecting the authority of members of the white race, displaying verbally and physically their hostility to the prison staff, interfering in the disciplinary proceedings of other inmates and the alleged doctrines advocated, present a problem in prison discipline and management.'

Freedom of religion is protected as a fundamental right by provisions in the California and United States Constitutions. U.S.Const. Amends. XIV, I; Cal.Const. art. I, sec. 4. But...

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