Tag Archives: religious freedom restoration act

(Winnie the) Pooh on You, Warden! – Update for November 22, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


From the We Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up Department:

bear171122Remember the Pastafarians? Now comes Chris Grief, who says keeping stuffed animals in his cell is necessary for his religious practices. He sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, claiming that he “engages in meditation as part of his quest to achieve spiritual enlightenment…” and he believes that “everything has a spiritual essence to it.” He told the district court he “has a strong spiritual connection with the spiritual essence of stuffed animals…” and that in order “to meditate on enlightenment he must do so with the presence of at least two stuffed animals.”

Yeah, he really said that.

sacrilege171122You will find it as incredible as we did that the institution did not bother respond to his heartfelt request to “receive and possess two stuffed animals.” Just as unbelievably, the district court heartlessly threw out Chris’s RFRA complaint, holding that his “belief that stuffed animals are necessary for his religious practice falls within the category of beliefs that are ‘so bizarre, so clearly nonreligious in motivation, as not to be entitled to protection’.”

Fortunately for Chris, the 2nd Circuit put a start to such hobnailed intolerance. Last week, it reinstated Chris’s lawsuit.

weird171122It was not enough, the appellate court ruled, for the district judge to find Chris’s attachment to his teddy bear “bizarre.” Of course it is, but that’s not the point of the RFRA. Rather, the Circuit said, “whether a professed belief is entitled to free exercise protection under our precedents requires a determination by the ‘factfinder’ regarding ‘whether the beliefs professed are, in the claimant’s own scheme of things, religious’.”

The district court will therefore have to determine whether Chris’s veneration of stuffed toys is sincere, no matter how weird it may seem.

Grief v. Quay, Warden, Case No. 16-1651 (2nd Cir., Nov. 13, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root