Advertisement

New York prisoners are suing to be able to watch the eclipse

New York prisoners are suing to be able to watch the eclipse

Six inmates at a prison in upstate New York are suing for their right to watch the solar eclipse next week, saying a planned lockdown violates their constitutional right to religious freedom.

The group are all being held at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility, around a two hour drive north-west of New York City and on the edge of the “path of totality” of the eclipse on 8 April.

Their lawsuit, filed on Friday, comes from men of different religious backgrounds, including a Baptist, a Muslim, an atheist, a Seventh-Day Adventist and two practitioners of Santeria.

“A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many,” the complaint reads, per The Associated Press.

It notes that Bible passages describe an eclipse-like phenomenon during Jesus’s crucifixion, whilst sacred Islamic works describe a similar event when the Prophet Muhammad’s son died.

Eclipses also hold significance for practitioners of Santeria, while atheists also have the right to marvel at the phenomenon, the suit says.

However, New York State Department of Corrections has said it will cancel visitation at all 23 facilities in the eclipse’s path, while other facilities will suspended visitation past 2pm.

While Woodbourne does not fall within the path of totality, the department’s acting commissioner Daniel Martuscello III also issued a memo stating that all facilities will go into lockdown between 2pm and 5pm, meaning inmates must stay in their accommodation.

The Washington Post reported that one of the plaintiffs did originally have permission to view the rare solar event, using special glasses, but that was before the system-wide lockdown was announced.

While some inmates who have windows will be provided with viewing glasses, along with staff, those without a view of the outside will not be permitted to leave their cells to watch.

The United States won’t see another total eclipse until 2044, with the plaintiffs saying they deserve the chance to see the rare event.

“Religious freedom is at the heart of not only our constitution, but our shared humanity,” Attorney Maddy Byrd, one of the lawyers working with the plaintiffs, told The Independent.

“This historic eclipse is religiously significant to people of many different faiths, and we are fighting for everyone’s right to observe it.”

In a statement released to The Independent, the Department of Corrections said it took all requests for religious accommodations under consideration.

“Religious requests related to viewing the eclipse are currently under review,” Director of Public Information Thomas Mailey said, adding that the department does not comment on pending litigation.