Prisoner's Right to Keep Rosary to be Decided by Court
source: ACLU, February 9, 2000
BOSTON, Mass. — An inmate in a Massachusetts state prison had his rosary beads seized by prison guards, who claim that the beads signified gang affiliation, Reuters reported.
According to Reuters, the inmate, Peter Kane, says that his right to religious freedom has been violated and denies belonging to any gang.
The beads were black-and-white, and prisoners are permitted to have only solid-color beads.
The state's highest court will hear the case on Tuesday, February 15th. A lower court ruled in the case that the Department of Corrections was permitted to confiscate the beads and that inmates' rights "may be curtailed in order to achieve legitimate correctional goals or to maintain prison security." The incident occurred in July 1997.
Kane's attorney, John Reinstein, of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the prison officials are sending the message that "if you want to pray, pray our way."
"The net effect of what the Department of Corrections is doing here," he said, "is to make it more difficult for people to pray. I certainly don't think you want to deprive people of the focus and sustenance they get from religion."
Religious groups agreed. C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, was skeptical of the state's policy. He said, "It seems that, given the easy availability of drugs and knives in Massachusetts correctional facilities, it's hard to believe a set of rosary beads would constitute a mortal danger."