Filed Date: 1972
Clearinghouse coding in progress
On August 3, 1972, filing pro se, two prisoners in the Iowa State Penitentiary filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa against state prison officials who were alleged to be denying the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to practice their religion, a pantheistic belief called "Eclatarianism," to be conducted through in-prison worship at the plaintiffs' "Church of the New Song (CONS)." Appointed private counsel subsequently represented plaintiffs' interests. The initial substantive ruling in the case found that the assertedly-new religion should have been recognized as such by the state officials and the religion's adherents afforded the same opportunities to exercise it as were the prison's adherents to traditional religions. The district court also ruled, however, that the state did not violate the First Amendment by inclusion, as parole review committee members, of chaplains from traditional religious faiths. Remmers v. Brewer, 396 F.Supp. 145 (S.D. Iowa 1975) (District Judge David R. Hansen).
Both sides of the case appealed. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling. Remmers v. Brewer, 494 F.2d 1277 (8th Cir. 1974)(per curiam). The Supreme Court denied review in Brewer v. Remmers, 419 U.S. 1012 (1974), and the case returned to District Judge Hansen. There, the defendants filed a motion to vacate the prior judgment and dismiss the complaint, citing two different district court's rulings that refused to find that CONS beliefs constituted a religion, whereas the plaintiffs sought to have the defendants held in contempt for non-compliance with the district court's earlier ruling. Judge Hansen denied both sides' efforts. Remmers v. Brewer, 396 F.Supp. 145 (S.D. Iowa 1975). Again, cross-appeals to the Eighth Circuit followed. The appellate court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Remmers v. Brewer, 529 F.2d 656 (8th Cir. 1976)(Circuit Judge Gerald W. Heaney).
On remand, the defendants filed a May 5, 1976, motion again seeking to vacate the earlier ruling recognizing CONS as a religion. Judge Hansen declined to grant the motion, but noted that the information presented by the defendants in support of the motion raised a factual issue as to whether the CONS members were abusing their First Amendment privileges. In a May 20, 1976, order, the judge re-opened discovery and indicated he would conduct an evidentiary hearing. The defendants amended their motion, on February 1, 1977, adding newly-discovered information and continuing to contest that CONS should be recognized as a religion. Judge Hansen agreed, in a March 23, 1977, order to allow the defendants to present their proof in support of their motion. He also referred the matter to U.S. Magistrate Judge R. E. Longstaff.
After the Magistrate Judge conducted an evidentiary hearing, the parties argued their positions to the district court and Judge Hansen issued his ruling on July 18, 1979. Judge Hansen denied the defendants' motion to vacate his earlier judgment. Loney v. Scurr, 474 F.Supp. 1186 (S.D. Iowa 1979). He ruled that having political or social goals does not disqualify CONS from being a religion and that the plaintiffs' belief was not shown to be insincere. Neither had the defendants shown that the church was disruptive of penological objectives to the point where an outright ban of the practice of the religion might be allowable. Given the passage of time and the changes in prison administration staffing and regulations, the court declined to hold further evidentiary hearings upon the merit of the plaintiffs' prior motion seeking access for CONS' clergy to visit maximum security prisoners. Thus, Judge Hansen denied that motion but did so without prejudice to plaintiffs' filing a new cause of action based upon the same or similar allegations, if necessary.
This case relates to Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse cases numbered PC-IA-13 (Remmers v. Brewer), PC-IA-22 (Voshell v. Spence) and PC-IA-23 (Goff v. Maschner).
Mike Fagan (4/14/2008)