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Imprisoned, Rabbi Sues Over Space for Prayer
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Rabbi Mordechai Samet, who was convicted of fraudulently obtaining more than $4 million, has filed a lawsuit saying he can't pray in his cell because it contains a toilet, according to the New York Times

NEW YORK: A Hasidic rabbi serving time at a federal penitentiary is suing the Bureau of Prisons to change its policy on where inmates can pray.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in New York, Rabbi Mordechai Samet, who was convicted of fraudulently obtaining more than $4 million, asserts that his ability to pray according to his beliefs has been violated by the Bureau of Prisons’ insistence that he pray in his cell. The cell contains a toilet, making it an unclean place to pray for Jews, his suit says, as well as for Muslims and Buddhists.

Prisoners in federal facilities cannot pray in common spaces, and prison chapels are usually not open enough hours to accommodate those who pray several times a day, the suit contends.
“Our goal is for the Bureau of Prisons to change its national policy on prayer,” said Shima Baradaran, a lawyer with Kirkland & Ellis in Manhattan, who is representing Rabbi Samet pro bono. “We would like for it to allow prisoners to pray anywhere outside their cells, within reason, and that would include silent, demonstrative and ritualized prayers, as long as they were not disturbing other prisoners.”

Rabbi Samet, 47, has moved for summary judgment, asking the judge to rule in his favor based on the evidence gathered, without the case going to trial. The Bureau of Prisons has said it will file for summary judgment, too, but asked the court for an extension.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, Traci L Billingsley, declined to comment because the matter was in litigation. Rabbi Samet was ordained in 1979. In 2003, he began serving a 27-year sentence in the Otisville Correctional Facility in Otisville, N.Y., after a jury convicted him of financial fraud, which included soliciting money for a fake lottery, submitting false death claims to insurance companies, and defrauding banks with counterfeit checks. Rabbi Samet is appealing his conviction.

According to his lawsuit, Rabbi Samet prays three times a day. He also frequently reads religious texts.
The brief says that Rabbi Samet’s faith forbids him from praying in his cell, where there is a toilet. But when he has prayed elsewhere in the prison, he has been disciplined, the suit says. He has also been punished for covering his toilet while praying in his cell, the suit says. He contends that the Bureau of Prisons has denied his requests to pray in the chapel or in common areas, like libraries, the television room and the housing unit’s hallways and open courtyards.

In a deposition in the plaintiff’s brief, the supervisory chaplain of Otisville and the Bureau of Prisons’ expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Nochum Laskin, confirms that observant Jews cannot pray in a bathroom.
The bureau offered several explanations for its limits on where inmates can pray. According to a deposition by Sister Susan Van Baalen, chaplaincy services administrator at the bureau, ritualized prayers like those that Rabbi Samet performs are “not something that is part of our national culture.” Sister Van Baalen said they could be “threatening” to other inmates or might make them feel “uncomfortable.”

Depositions of other prison officials described similar concerns about offending other inmates and disruption of security. But Rabbi Laskin said in his deposition that conflicts over prayer had never occurred at Otisville, even when inmates had violated prison policy and prayed in common areas.
In the discovery process, Rabbi Samet’s lawyers came across 10 requests similar to his made by prisoners elsewhere in the country in 2005-6. The Bureau of Prisons rejected all of them.


Source  >  nytimes


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