Inmates Win Religious Freedom Lawsuit to Witness Eclipse

( – At least six New York state prisoners are presumably feeling legally and spiritually fulfilled after settling their suit against the corrections department. The settlement allowed these six inmates to view the solar eclipse, which took place Monday, April 8th.

The state’s prison authority decided to put jails on lockdown during the astronomical event; the six prisoners who sued claimed this order violated their religious liberty. Travis Hudson, Jeremy Zielinski, Oscar Nunez, Bruce Moses, David Haigh, and Jean-Marc Desmarat launched the federal suit earlier this year.

The plaintiffs claimed in their filing that the eclipse had special religious significance for them, as it does, they claim, for “various religions.” The claim never went to trial as the inmate plaintiffs settled with the Department of Corrections last week before the Monday eclipse.

Their law firm, Alston & Bird, pulled the suit and released a statement praising the outcome. They said they were pleased that the state had agreed to let their clients watch the eclipse “in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” How those beliefs were determined to be sincerely held was not disclosed.

The six inmates are all serving time at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, which is north of New York City by more than 100 miles. Media reports describe their religious beliefs as “varied.”

Their crimes were varied, too. Jeremy Zielinski (described as an atheist) is serving time for sexual assault, and he has a history of legal trouble for indecent behaviors involving children. Bruce Moses is locked up for assault, weapons possession, and drug convictions. Along with Oscar Nunez, found guilty of attempted murder, Moses allegedly practices the religion of Santeria.

Jean-Marc Desmarat is serving time for murder, while David Haigh was convicted of manslaughter.

The April 8th total solar eclipse was viewable throughout a narrow path of the U.S. going from Southwest to Northeast. The most recent total eclipse visible in the U.S. took place in 2017.

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