New York Post

Eclipse is a once in a life sentence event: inmates

Faith-based case vs. NY jail: Let us view, too


It’s a total eclipse of their rights.

Six inmates at a New York prison are so eager to catch next week’s solar eclipse that they’re suing their lockup, claiming the rare spectacle is a “religious event” that they should be allowed to see.

The prisoners at Woodbourne Correction­al Facility argue the April 8 phenomenon — in which the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth, immersing part of the state in darkness in the middle of the afternoon -should “warrant gathering, celebratio­n, worship and prayer,” their federal lawsuit states.

The men include a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practition­ers of Santeria and even one atheist — who have all “expressed a sincerely held religious belief that April’s solar eclipse is a religious event that they must witness and reflect on to observe their faiths,” according to the suit filed Friday.

But state correction officials have planned a lockdown during the astronomic­al marvel, in a move that would breach the inmates’ constituti­onal rights to practice their religions, the suit alleges.

From Bible to Koran

The suit notes that an eclipselik­e phenomenon is described in the Bible during Christ’s crucifixio­n and that Islam depicts a similar event coinciding with the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son.

“As people with different beliefs come together to observe the eclipse, an incredible phenomenon that holds religious significan­ce for many, we simply ask that [prison officials] allow our clients their Constituti­onal right to practice their faith,” Sharon Steinerman, a senior associate at white-shoe law firm Alston & Bird, which is repping the prisoners pro bono, told The Post Tuesday.

The lawyers filing the suit are seeking to make it a class action so that impacted inmates at other prisons across the state can join the legal battle.

They are seeking a court order forcing the State Department of Correction­s and Community Supervisio­n to allow inmates to witness the event.

State officials declared last month that they would have a system-wide lockdown during the eclipse, and that visitors will be prohibited from visiting inmates at prisons in the path of totality — when much of upstate is expected to be snarled by traffic.

The atheist plaintiff maintains that he received special permission to view the eclipse with state-provided protective glasses before the lockdown was announced.

Holy-day exemption

Four other plaintiffs said the state denied their request to get a religious exemption because officials said the occasion was not considered a holy day in their religions. The remaining plaintiff said the state ignored his request.

DOCCS spokespers­on Thomas Mailey said the state takes all requests for religious accommodat­ions under considerat­ion and the eclipse-related requests were under review.

Daniel Martuscell­o III, the department’s acting commission­er, said solar-eclipse safety glasses will be given to staff and inmates who can view the astronomic­al event — which isn’t expected to happen again until 2044 — from their work or housing units.

There would be no outdoor recreation­al activities permitted between 2 and 5 p.m. during the period when the moon will eclipse the sun, sending much of the state into complete darkness for several minutes around 3:15 p.m.

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 ?? ?? MOON SHOT: A multifaith crew of Woodbourne Correction­al prisoners say viewing the April 8 eclipse is a constituti­onal right.
MOON SHOT: A multifaith crew of Woodbourne Correction­al prisoners say viewing the April 8 eclipse is a constituti­onal right.

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