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Brown v. Solomon

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

September 15, 2017

MARSHALL LEE BROWN, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE T. SOLOMON, ET AL., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint, (Doc. No. 1). On May 28, 2015, this Court entered an order granting Plaintiff in forma pauperis status and waiving the initial filing fee. (Doc. No. 3).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Marshall Lee Brown, Jr., is a North Carolina prisoner incarcerated at the Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville, North Carolina. Plaintiff filed this action on April 29, 2015, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming as Defendants: (1) North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”) Director George T. Solomon; (2) NCDPS Chaplaincy Services Director Betty Brown; (3) NCDPS Chaplaincy Services Director Swindell Edwards; (4) Alexander CI Chaplain Daniel Redding; and (5) Alexander CI Superintendent Susan White. (Doc. No. 1).

         Plaintiff alleges that, while incarcerated at Alexander CI, Jehovah's Witness inmates were provided separate faith worship services until mid-2014. This included classes once a week on Sundays in the chapel library, a special annual celebration of Christ's death on April 14, 2014, and a religious faith worship service and lecture on April 26, 2014.

         After permitting Jehovah's Witnesses to worship for years at Alexander CI, Defendant Redding arbitrarily and indefinitely suspended the Jehovah's Witness worship services. (Doc. No. 1 at 15). On June 30, 2014, a request was made to Redding to reinstate the weekly services but he refused, stating that the NDCPS Religious Resource Guide and Practices Manual (“RRGPM”) categorizes Jehovah's Witnesses as Christian-Protestants who do not have to be granted a separate time, meeting place, or specific services. (Doc. No. 1 at 16-17).

         The RRGPM incorrectly categorizes Jehovah's Witnesses as Christian-Protestant sect. The three recognized categories of Christians in the RRGPM - Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox - share the three common beliefs of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit as the third person of the trinity, and salvation through Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the holy trinity doctrine so they should be recognized as a distinct Christian organization with non-traditional beliefs and practices. Jehovah's Witnesses follow the biblical commands that they all speak in agreement, have no division, meet together, and annually celebrate Christ's death. (Doc. No. 1 at 19). The RRGPM states that it is not exhaustive and needs to be reviewed and upDated: regular intervals, and that relevant materials from knowledgeable religious authorities should be added to make it more accurate and useable.

         Redding's prior provision of separate religious worship services shows that he is conscious that a doctrinal disparity exists between Jehovah's Witnesses and other Christian denominations. (Doc. No. 1 at 18). Redding refused to reinstate Jehovah's Witness services even though he was in the best position to do so, which shows his intent to discriminate.

         On February 23, 2015, an informal letter, completed DC-572 form, and extensive factual information were sent to Defendant White requesting that she contact knowledgeable authorities, i.e., the Governing Body of Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. White did not respond but forwarded the materials to Defendant Redding who, in turn, forwarded them to Defendant Brown. Plaintiff does not know whether it was within White's power to take further action or investigate the matter. (Doc. No. 1 at 21).

         On March 23, 2015, a memorandum from Defendant Edwards to Brown stated that the DC-572 form is not to be used for existing religious faith groups. Further, “Jehovah's Witnesses is considered as a Christian-Protestant in the RRGPM, therefore there is to be no separate services or meeting time just for them, they are being accommodated according to NCDPS policy.” (Doc. No. 1 at 20). Brown and Edwards were the “epicenter” of, and in a position to recognize, the RRGPM policy error and its unconstitutional consequences yet they chose to allow discriminatory religious suppression to continue. (Doc. No. 1 at 21).

         Solomon supervises all the named Defendants, which “should keep him aware of the possible legal or Constitutional matters, as well as the Grievance Commission/Resolution Board; and the examiners they appoint.” (Doc. No. 1 at 22).

         Plaintiff asserts claims under the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, the Fourteenth Amendment, [1] and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., against the Defendants in their individual and official capacities.

         Plaintiff seeks to have the RRGPM amended to recognize Jehovah's Witnesses as a distinct Christian organization with non-traditional beliefs and practices, reinstatement of distinct religious worship services once a week, payment of the cost of filing the complaint by Edwards and Brown as nominal damages due to the emotional and religious stress their actions have caused, and other relief that the Court deems just.

         II. ...


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