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New York inmate sues for watching solar eclipse after prison ordered lockdown


In this image provided by NASA, the International Space Station is seen silhouetted against the sun from Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park, Washington, during a solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017.

Bill Ingalls/AP


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Bill Ingalls/AP


In this image provided by NASA, the International Space Station is seen silhouetted against the sun from Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park, Washington, during a solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017.

Bill Ingalls/AP

NEW YORK — Inmates in New York state are suing the state Department of Corrections over its decision to lock down prisons during next Sunday’s total eclipse.

The lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in upstate New York says the April 8 lockdown violated inmates’ constitutional rights to practice their faith by preventing them from attending major religious events.

The defendants are six men of various religious backgrounds incarcerated at the Woodburn Correctional Facility in Woodburn, including a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-day Adventist and two Sacrifice Tyrians, and atheists.

“Solar eclipses are rare natural phenomena that hold great religious significance for many people,” the complaint reads, noting that biblical passages describe an eclipse-like phenomenon during the crucifixion of Jesus, and that the sacred Islamic writings describe similar events surrounding the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son.

The lawsuit states that this celestial event last occurred in the United States in 2017 and will not occur again in the United States until 2044, “requiring gathering, celebration, worship and prayer.”

The lawsuit alleges that one of the named defendants, an atheist, received special permission to view the eclipse using state-provided glasses last month, but that was before a system-wide lockdown was issued.

The other four defendants then sought permission but were denied by officials, who ruled the eclipse was not listed as a holy day for their religions, the lawsuit said. A sixth inmate said he never received a response.

Department of Corrections spokesman Thomas Mailey said the agency does not comment on pending litigation but considers all requests for religious accommodations. Requests related to viewing the eclipse are currently under review, he said.

The department’s acting commissioner, Daniel Martuscello III, issued a memo on March 11 announcing that all state correctional facilities would open on a holiday schedule next Monday.

That means incarcerated people will remain in their housing units except for emergencies from 2 to 5 p.m., which are normal hours for outdoor recreation at the prison, the lawsuit said.

Nearly two dozen prisons will also not have visitation during next Monday’s totality period, while visitation at other correctional facilities will end at 2 p.m.

Matucello said the department will distribute eclipse safety glasses to staff and incarcerated individuals at the prison in the path of totality so they can view the eclipse from their designated workstations or housing units.

Communities in the western and northern parts of the state are expected to have Best viewing Locations for the total solar eclipse include Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Lake Placid and Plattsburgh.

Parts of New York are expected to see a total solar eclipse around 3:15 p.m. and in its final minutes, when the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, temporarily blocking the sun and turning day to night.



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