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Clarence Bernard Williamson, A/K/A v. William Twaddell and Richard Young

September 4, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sue E. Myerscough, U.S. District Judge:


Tuesday, 04 September, 2012 10:28:23 AM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


This case is about Plaintiff's right to change and practice his religion in prison and about alleged retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is before the Court. For the reasons below, the motion will be denied.


"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A movant may demonstrate the absence of a material dispute through specific cites to admissible evidence, or by showing that the non-movant "cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [material] fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(B). If the movant clears this hurdle, the non-movant may not simply rest on his or her allegations in the complaint, but instead must point to admissible evidence in the record to show that a genuine dispute exists. Id.; Harvey v. Town of Merrillville, 649 F.3d 526, 529 (7th Cir. 2011). "In a § 1983 case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the constitutional deprivation that underlies the claim, and thus must come forward with sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact to avoid summary judgment." McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir. 2010).

At the summary judgment stage, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, with material factual disputes resolved in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when a reasonable juror could find for the non-movant. Id.


These events occurred in Western Illinois Correctional Center ("Western"), where Plaintiff remains incarcerated. Some of the cited exhibits refer to Plaintiff as "Mark Howard" rather than "Clarence Williamson." Apparently Plaintiff is known under both names. For clarity, the Court uses the term "Plaintiff." Additionally, the Court notes that only those exhibits necessary to the Court's decision will be discussed.

Plaintiff was transferred from Stateville Correctional Center to Western in September 2007. At that time, Plaintiff's identification card designated his religion as Black Hebrew Israelite, and he was receiving a vegan diet in accordance with his religious tenets. Being designated as a Black Hebrew Israelite at Stateville had allowed him to attend "Israel God services," with which he felt more comfortable than the African Hebrew Israelite services offered. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 18, d/e 81-2.) In 2008, Plaintiff decided to eat the regular diet rather than a vegan diet. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that medical reasons counseled against his continued consumption of the soy in the vegan diet. Id. at p. 55.

In early 2009, Plaintiff decided to change his religion to "Messianic" after communicating over the course of a year with Elder Vacca and learning about the teachings of Elder Vacca's group, known as "Yahweh's Assembly in Messiah," a Messianic group located in Missouri. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 17, d/e 81-2.) According to Plaintiff, the term Messianic is similar to the term Christian in that both contain subsets of many separate religions. For example, the Black Hebrew Israelite religion is a subset of the Messianic religion, just as the Catholic religion is a subset of Christianity. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 20, d/e 81-2.) According to Plaintiff, other subset religions falling under the Messianic label include African Hebrew Israelite, Messianic Hebrew, Hebrew, and Jewish Messianic. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 59, d/e 81-2.) The specific differences between Messianic and Black Hebrew Israelite is unclear, but Plaintiff perceives a doctrinal difference. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Twaddell has been unaccommodating to religions like Black Hebrew Israelite and Messianic. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 53, d/e 81-2.) He testified that no services are available for either religion. Id. at pp. 63-64.

Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he began submitting written requests to change his religion to Messianic in February 2009, ultimately submitting at least three requests before he was taken to speak to Defendant Chaplain Twaddell in May 2009. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 14, d/e 81-2.) Defendant Twaddell began his career in the IDOC as a correctional officer in 1993 and has served as the Chaplain for Western Illinois Correctional Center since 2004. What training Defendant Twaddell received for the chaplain position is not in the record.

After submitting an additional request on May 5, 2009, Plaintiff was called for a meeting with Defendant Twaddell. Plaintiff told Twaddell about Plaintiff's desire to change his religious designation to Messianic and to be baptized by Elder Vacca from Yahweh's Assembly if possible. According to Plaintiff, Chaplain Twaddell made some snide remarks but then seemed to indicate the Plaintiff's request could be accommodated if Plaintiff submitted verification of Elder Vacca's credentials, to which Plaintiff agreed. Id. at p. 24. Plaintiff testified that being baptized was not an absolute requirement of the Messianic religion, but that baptism was part of the process of reforming oneself in which he wished to and should take part if possible. Id. at pp. 30.

A memo dated June 8, 2009 from Defendant Twaddell to Plaintiff informed Plaintiff that Elder Vacca had been approved to enter the prison as Plaintiff's clergy. (6/8/09 memo, d/e 81-2.) Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he never saw this memo until during the discovery of this case. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 32, 81-2.). Further, Plaintiff's religious designation was not changed despite the approval of the visit, nor was Plaintiff's request for a kosher diet approved. Defendant Twaddell did not officially approve or deny these requests after approving Elder Vacca's visit, despite Plaintiff's repeated inquiries.

In September 2009, Plaintiff filed a grievance to change his religious designation, stating that he had been seeking the change for six months through communications with Defendant Twaddell and Defendant Young, who was at the time the Assistant Warden of Programs and Defendant Twaddell's supervisor. Plaintiff's grievance asked for a change of religion to Messianic, baptism by someone from Yahweh's Assembly in Messiah, and accommodation of unspecified dietary tenets. (9/23/09 grievance, d/e 81-2.) Defendant Twaddell and Plaintiff both seem to agree that Plaintiff was referring to a kosher diet.

The response to the grievance states that Defendant Twaddell had not denied Plaintiff's change of religion and that steps would be taken to approve Elder Vacca's visit. On December 1, 2009, Elder Vacca wrote a letter to Defendant Twaddell, purportedly to clarify an earlier phone conversation between them. Elder Vacca stated that he wished to make clear that he sought entry to the prison not only to visit with Plaintiff, but also to baptize Plaintiff, which required full water submersion in a two-hour ceremony. (12/1/09 letter, d/e 81-2.) Defendant Twaddell responded that arrangements could be made to allow Elder Vacca to baptize Plaintiff in the prison chapel sometime after January 5, 2010. (12/19/09 letter, d/e 81-2.) Defendant Twaddell asked Elder Vacca to submit documentation about "the requirements for the kosher diet." Id.

Defendant Twaddell also asked if Plaintiff should be identified as a member of the "Assemblies of Yahweh," which was a designation available at the prison. Elder Vacca responded that the Assemblies of Yahweh referred to a different group, and stated that, "[a]s to the Kosher Diet all I can say is we adhere to Leviticus 11: versus 1 thru 22. There they mention each and every clean and unclean animal. I will also enclose a couple of sheets that talk about the clean foods." (12/23/09 letter, d/e 81-2.)

Despite being approved to visit, Elder Vacca did not come to visit Plaintiff and still has not come. Nor has Plaintiff been baptized. Plaintiff's understanding is that Elder Vacca has not been able to travel because of health issues, and that Vacca's attempts to arrange for others to baptize Plaintiff have been unsuccessful. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 49, d/e 81-2.)

Plaintiff filed another grievance on February 10, 2010, again asking for a change to his religious designation and a kosher diet. The counselor's response suggests that Twaddell was requiring Plaintiff to be baptized first before ...

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