We all know that the US is famous for its lawsuits based on outrageous claims. In fact, in 2013, a man in New Jersey began a suit alleging that foot long Subway sandwiches are really only 11 inches (a suit which is now seeking class action status). But what about when the issue at stake is a person’s religion? The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. And one’s religion is very personal – it was said by Mirza Masroor Ahmad that “Religion is a personal matter between God and man, and that force plays no role in it.”
So, here is the question: Is not being allowed to worship Satan worth $140,000? It is to one prison inmate in New Mexico who has filed a law suit in response to prison authorities’ denial to let him “properly worship Satan behind bars.” As part of his suit, the inmate is alleging that the prison officials treat his faith differently than other faiths and that they essentially don’t let him engage in the practices of his faith.
When in prison, one is subject to state control. You lose most of your autonomy, being told what you can and cannot do each day. But does the state have the right to tell you who you can and cannot worship, even in prison? If you are being told you cannot worship Satan, what is next? Will it become up to the subjective decisions of prison officials?
Or is this just another crazy US lawsuit? Anthony Romero, deputy director of adult prisons, says officials try to accommodate all religions. And, the inmate’s suit doesn’t specify exactly how he believes his rights were violated. Some essential questions in this case might be: Did he practice Satanism before he was in prison? Is he well-versed in the practices and central beliefs of Satanism? Did he, or does he, belong to any groups which practice Satanism? And, finally, is the denial of his right to practice his faith while in prison worth $140,000?
I must admit that my first reaction upon reading this article was that it was another individual using the US legal system to get some cash and some fame. While this may be true in this case, this story also made me think about the ramifications of denying anyone the right to practice a religion from a position of power. Under what circumstances is that permissible? Consider a religion that requires the sacrifice of a virgin every time there is a full moon, for example. Obviously, there are some circumstances where the answers are straightforward and others where the answers are less so.