Sharp v. Johnson (3d Cir. 2012): Prison Religious Discrimination Claim

Plaintiff Shawn Sharp, an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), brought this civil rights action pursuant to the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and RLUIPA, claiming that two prison facilities unlawfully denied his request to accommodate his particular religious group. The plaintiff claimed that the Sunni Muslim services offered at the DOC did not allow him free exercise of his religion, since he is a member of the so-called Habashi sect of Islam, which has ideological differences from the prison’s recognized Sunni group. The prison’s Muslim chaplain disagreed, stating that if Sharp was a Sunni Muslim, as he claimed to be, then there was no reason why Sharp could not attend the already-provided services of Sunni Muslims. The Court decided in favor of the Defendants, determining that the DOC successfully presented a qualified immunity defense, and that the plaintiff’s request had no rational connection to any legitimate penological interest.

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