United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
ERIK C. STRICKLAND, Plaintiff,
SALVADOR GODINEZ, TY BATES, DONALD GAETZ, STEVE KEIM, MARC HODGE, STEVE DUNCAN, BETH TREDWAY, DAVID VAUGHN, JERRY HARPER, and WILLIAM LOY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.
pending before the Court are cross motions for summary
judgment filed by the parties (Docs. 102, 131). For the reasons
set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted, and
Plaintiff's motion is denied.
Erik C. Strickland, an inmate of the Illinois Department of
Corrections (“IDOC”) filed this lawsuit on
September 3, 2014 (Doc. 1), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging he was being denied the opportunity to
practice various aspects of his religion, Asatru/Odinism,
while incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center.
Strickland named various prison officials as defendants,
including: Salvador Godinez, IDOC Director from 2012 to 2015;
Ty Bates, IDOC Deputy Director from 2012 to 2013; Donald
Gaetz, IDOC Deputy Director from 2013 to 2014; Stephen Keim,
IDOC Chief Chaplain from 2012 to present; Marc Hodge, Warden
of Lawrence from 2012 to 2013; Steven Duncan, the Warden of
Lawrence at the time of filing; Beth Tredway, Assistant
Warden of Programs from 2012 to 2015; David Vaughn, IDOC
Chaplain from 2012 to present; Jerry Harper, Correctional and
Intelligence Officer; and William Loy, Correctional and
Intelligence Officer. Strickland is proceeding on three
counts: Count 1 alleges claims under the First Amendment and
the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), against
IDOC administrators; Count 2 alleges the same RLUIPA claims
against Lawrence officials; and Count 3 alleges First
Amendment claims against Intelligence Officers Loy and Harper
related to Strickland's desire to engage in group worship
(Docs. 8, 85).
filed a motion for summary judgment on April 6, 2016 (Doc.
102). Strickland filed a pro se response on June 22,
2016 (Doc. 123), which was withdrawn by assigned counsel
(Doc. 124). Strickland, through counsel, then filed a
combined response and cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc.
131). Defendants have not filed a response to the
their motion for summary judgment, Defendants argue that they
were not personally involved in any alleged violation of
Strickland's rights, that Strickland cannot show that the
exercise of his religion was substantially burdened, that
they have a compelling governmental interest in imposing a
burden on his religious practice, and that they are entitled
to qualified immunity. Strickland concedes that the §
1983 claims contained in Count 1 should be dismissed for lack
of personal involvement; however, he argues that his
religious practice was substantially burdened, that the
prison did not impose the least restrictive means, that the
prison had alternative means to advance its legitimate
penological interests, and that qualified immunity is limited
to Strickland's claims for monetary relief under §
is a practicing member of the Asatru religion, also known as
Odinism. As part of his religious observance, he has
requested various items in his cell, including an altar
cloth, a rune set, a second medallion, a wooden drinking
horn, a wooden sacramental bowl, and an adorned alter, among
other things (Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Fact
(“PSUF”) ¶17, Doc. 131, pp. 3-6). These
items are used in both individual and group worship, although
group worship also requires “sacred land” and a
“wooden Thor's hammer” (PSUF ¶ 15).
Group worship was allowed at Lawrence, in part because of
Strickland's advocacy, beginning on July 19, 2013 (PSUF
¶ 12). Defendants Harper and Loy supervised and
monitored the group services (PSUF ¶ 13). However, group
worship was cancelled in June 2015 (PSUF ¶14).
Strickland also observes Blót, a ritual observation of
thirteen holy days, five of which include ritual feasting
(PSUF ¶ 16).
at Lawrence, Strickland has been denied a second medallion
(despite IDOC rules allowing inmates to possess two
medallions), all items for individual and group worship, and
the ability to celebrate all thirteen Blóts
(Strickland has been permitted to celebrate only two
Blóts) (PSUF ¶¶ 18-21). The prison also has
substituted alternative items for those desired by
Strickland, but according to Strickland the substitutions are
“made from material that does not align with Asatru
beliefs and values” (i.e. plastic bowls and cups for
their wooden counterparts) (PSUF ¶ 21). Defendant Vaughn
is the Chaplain at Lawrence who has authority over religious
services, items, and practices (Defendants' Statement of
Undisputed Material Facts (“DSUF”) ¶ 9).
Defendant Keim is IDOC's Chief Chaplain (DSUF ¶ 45).
undisputed that security threat groups (“STGs”),
i.e., gangs or unauthorized organizations in prison, pose a
significant risk to inmate and jail officials' health,
safety, and security (DSUF ¶ 15, Doc.
103-1). STGs pose a threat by violating various
prison rules, trading and trafficking in contraband,
exploiting offenders, participating and ordering assaults on
inmates and staff, exhibiting extreme acts of violence, and
participating or conducting illegal activity. (DSUF ¶
15). One such STG at Lawrence is the white supremacists group
(DSUF ¶ 18). STGs can use religious activity, and in
particular have used the Asatru religion, as a “guise
for white supremacist STG activity” (DSUF ¶ 20).
Strickland himself admits that people who identify with white
supremacists use Odinism as a “cover” (Doc.
103-3, p. 91). Strickland denies affiliation with a gang or
any involvement in STG activity, however, and he does not
associate Asatru with violence (PSUF ¶ 25).
also undisputed that Strickland was transferred to Lawrence
from Shawnee Correctional Center in 2012 due to a
disciplinary infraction for STG activity (DSUF ¶ 21). In
particular, prison officials were informed that Strickland
was the mastermind in recruitment activities for the white
supremacist group at Shawnee, which was orchestrated under
the cover of group Asatru/Odinism worship (DSUF ¶ 24).
Strickland admitted to officials at Shawnee that he was
affiliated with the white supremacists. Strickland also has
various tattoos demonstrating his affiliation: an embellished
swastika, the number 1488,  and the letters “WP”
in reference to “white power” (DSUF ¶ 23).
of Strickland's history, he was monitored by the
Intelligence Unit at Lawrence for continued STG activity
(DSUF ¶¶ 22-23). Defendant Harper worked in the
Intelligence Unit in some capacity during the relevant time
period; he is currently the Intelligence Unit Coordinator at
Lawrence (DSUF ¶ 12). Defendant Loy was an Intelligence
Officer in 2012 and is currently a Correctional Sergeant
(DSUF ¶ 10). Defendants Harper and Loy were assigned to
monitor and investigate Strickland's conduct (DSUF
¶¶ 25, 26, 35). Strickland claims Defendants Harper
and Loy threatened him while he was in the chow line after he
filed grievances regarding the denial of his right to
practice Asatru, insinuating that if he participated in his
group worship services, he would receive a STG ticket (Doc.
103-3, p. 46). As a result, Strickland claims, he did not
fully participate in group worship services (Doc. 103-3, p.
consulting with the Intelligence Unit, Chaplain Vaughn denied
Strickland's request for various religious items because
they contained symbols associated with white supremacists or
were considered safety and security threats (DSUF ¶ 52).
For example, a requested red and white altar cloth had a
swastika on it (DSUF ¶ 29); the additional medallion
Strickland requested had a sun wheel on it (which is deemed
to represent a swastika) (DSUF ¶ 30); and a book,
“The Handbook of the Ulfhednar Kindred of Asatru,
” contained white supremacist imagery including a tree
with a noose hanging from a branch (DSUF ¶
Strickland was denied the option of keeping a rune set in his
cell because they had been used by other inmates to
“manipulate other offenders to commit assaults or
violence . . . .” (DSUF ¶ 59). Strickland was
nonetheless permitted to keep a set in the chapel for use
during group worship or during scheduled visits to the chapel
(DSUF ¶ 59). Wooden objects, like the requested drinking
horn, bowl, and a staff, were rejected because they could be
fashioned into weapons (DSUF ¶ 60-61). Strickland was
given plastic bowl and cup alternatives
(Id.). The in-cell “adorned” alter
was rejected because it would not fit into a property box
(where inmates are directed to keep their personal property)
and would obscure a view of the cell (DSUF ¶¶
63-64). However, Strickland was permitted to adorn his bed or
shelf in his cell and worship individually as an alternative
(Id.). He also was allowed to create a Thor's
Hammer, oath ring, staff, and sunwheel out of cardboard (DSUF
limitations on Strickland's celebration of Blót
were unrelated to Odinism or Strickland's history of
involvement in white supremacist groups. Chaplain Vaughn was
required to accommodate 43 different religions practiced by
Lawrence inmates, and all religions were limited to two
religious holidays due to limited resources, scheduling, and
security concerns (DSUF ¶ 68-69). Strickland's
request for “sacred land” was denied “for
safety, security, and economic concerns” because
“Lawrence does not have sacred land to donate” to
Strickland (DSUF ¶ 74). Strickland's request to
convene with a group outside of the chapel to conduct certain
ceremonies also was denied because of inmate movement (a
number of inmates would be moving around the facility at the
same time creating a security concern) (DSUF ¶¶
officials did, however, allow group worship consistent with
the requirements of the Illinois Administrative Code. In
particular, because there was no chaplain who was available
to lead such services, the group needed pre-approval and a
staff person to attend and monitor (DSUF ¶¶ 32-33).
When Strickland's worship group was monitored by an
intelligence officer, the group “followed the approved
service or sermon as required by the Department rule”
(DSUF ¶ 36). When an intelligence officer was not
present, however, Strickland “and two individuals would
have their own separate discussions during services”
(DSUF ¶ 37).
group services began, additional inmates, uniformly white,
began identifying as Asatru (DSUF ¶ 38). Strickland
solicited help from persons not incarcerated to conduct
background checks on these new individuals in order to ensure
that none had sex offenses (sexual offenders are not welcomed
by white supremacists) (DSUF ¶ 40). Strickland also
sought to incorporate “parliamentary
procedure[s]” to the group worship (DSUF ¶ 45).