New York inmates are suing to watch the solar eclipse after state orders prisons locked down

Convicted felons in a New York prison are suing the facility because of a lockdown ordered during next week’s solar eclipse.

Six inmates at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility feel their constitutional rights are being violated by the lockdown which will prevent them from seeing the phenomenon on April 8 as the moon passes between the sun and the earth.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of New York last week and claims the eclipse “is a significant religious event for people of many different faith backgrounds,” thus the lockdown is unconstitutional.

“The plaintiffs – a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria and an atheist – are asking a judge to order the corrections department to immediately rescind the lockdown memo and provide eclipse glasses to all inmates who wish to view the eclipse, as it did when a partial eclipse was visible in 2017 in New York,” USA Today reported.

The plaintiffs “expressed a sincerely held religious belief that April’s solar eclipse is a religious event that they must witness and reflect on to observe their faiths,” according to the filing.

In a memo last month to all 44 prisons in the state, Daniel Martuscello III, acting commissioner of New York’s corrections department, ordered that some visits to the prison would be canceled or restricted and all facilities would be locked down from 2 to 5 p.m. on April 8.

“This should not be controversial and was previously allowed during the last solar eclipse viewable in New York State,” the lawsuit argues.

“For some, this event might simply be another interesting natural phenomenon to admire,” the complaint read. “But for many, this eclipse is a moment of monumental religious significance that cannot be overlooked or dismissed out of hand.”

According to Fox News:

Inmate Jeremy Zielinski was initially granted permission to view the eclipse, but his permission was revoked when the lockdowns were announced last month, he said.

Zielinski, an atheist, has been behind bars at Woodbourne since September 2016 on a first-degree rape charge, according to DOC records. Previously, he spent four years in Coxsackie Correctional Facility for promoting a sexual performance by a child, attempting to distribute indecent material to a minor and bail jumping.

The eclipse is significant to his faith, according to the lawsuit, because atheists “celebrate science and reason.”


“[Zielinski] sincerely believes that observing the solar eclipse in the presence of others who have sincerely held religious beliefs of its importance is critical to practicing his faith… because it is a central aspect of atheism to celebrate common humanity and bring people together to encourage people to find common ground,” the lawsuit states.

Other inmates in the lawsuit include Jean Desmarat who is serving a minimum sentence of 25 years for second-degree murder, after strangling a man in a motel room in June 2002. Travis Hudson, a Baptist, was convicted of first-degree course of sexual conduct with a child.

“It will be 20 years before another opportunity like this exists,” another inmate, David Haigh, a Seventh-Day Adventist, said.

“I don’t believe that just because I am incarcerated that I should be denied this opportunity, especially when this eclipse is scheduled to happen during normal outside recreation time,” added Haigh who is serving time for first-degree manslaughter charges.

According to the lawsuit, it “is key to [Haigh’s] faith to observe the solar eclipse and reflect on what he believes is the same phenomenon experienced by Jesus Christ before he died.”

“[Bruce] Moses was convicted of second-degree attempted assault, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and third-degree drug possession; [Oscar] Nuñez is incarcerated on second-degree attempted murder charges and has a prior conviction for first-degree robbery,” Fox News reported, noting they practice Santeria.

“Moses wishes to make a spiritual offering during the event, while Nuñez wishes to ‘pray and chant to the moon and the sun for blessings while they meet,’ according to the complaint,” the outlet added.

The lockdown was meant to “ensure the safety” of inmates and staff, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections who told ABC News that special eclipse safety glasses will still be given out to any at the prison who will be in the path “in the event they will be able to view the eclipse from their assigned work location or housing units.”

“Religious requests related to viewing the eclipse are currently under review,” he said.

While the corrections department has until April 22 to respond to the lawsuit, it seems it would be irrelevant once Monday’s event has passed.

“These inmates are asking for the most human of things: to gather and celebrate something that is greater than themselves. It is meant to be a time of reflection and redemption,” the lawsuit states. “Two worthy causes for individuals who are serving time and will hopefully one day be given the opportunity to re-join society.”

Frieda Powers


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