Odin-worshipping inmate says black cellmate violates his religious freedom — court tells him to take a hike
An appeals court in California slapped down a white supremacist’s claim that his religious freedom was violated because he might have to share a prison cell with an inmate from another race.
The inmate, Dennis Walker, is a devout racist who identifies himself as an Aryan Christian Odinist, which he said forbids him from integrating with or performing required “warding” rituals in front of members of other races.
The state refused to exempt Walker from its integrated housing policy, arguing that it would potentially violate the Equal Protection Clause by granting the white supremacist’s request to be assigned only an “Aryan” cellmate.
“Although the word ‘Aryan’ has been variously used to describe Proto-Indo-Europeans and Hindus, Walker apparently uses it to refer only to white individuals of Northern European heritage,” the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit noted in its opinion. “We follow that usage in this opinion.
The state’s housing policy allows prisoners to be classified into one of five categories – including one making them eligible for a multi-race cell or another for restricting them to their own cell.
An inmate’s race may not be considered a primary determining factor in cell assignment, according to the policy.
Prison officials may consider whether an inmate has a history of racial violence, and prisoners may be disciplined if they refuse to accept an inmate from another race – although they are not forced to share a cell with someone if they refuse that assignment.
Walker refused the assignment of a cellmate from another race and was placed in administrative segregation.
He sued the secretary of the Department of Corrections and the prison’s warden, claiming his rights were violated under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Walker claimed that having a cellmate from another race would prevent him from communicating with the gods during a “spiritual circle of Odinist Warding.”
The court, however, rejected the claim – finding that Walker could gain spiritual fulfillment outside his cell.
Watch arguments in the case posted online by United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: