Prison Casanova Loses Battle for Chapel Time

     (CN) – A man with a history of romantic but “not sexual” relationships with prison guards cannot challenge limitations to his use of a prison chapel, the 9th Circuit ruled.
     Lance Wood is serving two life sentences in Idaho for helping a friend torture and kill a college student in 1988. He is the same paramour whom Renee McKenzie, the former wife of an Idaho state senator, told the Idaho Statesman in February that she plans to marry.
     Wood faces a two-hour-a-week cap on use of the prison chapel, however, because of his supposedly improper relationship with the guard and complaints by other inmates that Wood was using the chapel too much.
     Prison officials first restricted Wood’s access to the prison chapel after discovering in 2006 that Wood had used the site to carry on a relationship with a female prison guard.
     The relationship, which the 9th Circuit described Tuesday as “romantic” but “not sexual,” came to light during an investigation of a previous relationship that Wood had carried on with a different female prison guard, Officer Sandra Taylor-Martin, in 2002.
     Coincidentally, Wood brought a challenge over that relationship to the 9th Circuit as well. That lawsuit alleged that Taylor-Martin had harassed him by cupping his groin during a pat-down, and had once grabbed and stroked his penis. Wood’s relationship with Taylor-Martin allegedly went sour after he discovered that she was married.
     Though a federal judge initially ruled against Wood in that case, the 9th Circuit in 2012 found that Wood may have a case under the Eight Amendment because the inherently unbalanced relationship between guard and inmate shifts the burden of proof to the accused.
     Wood filed his complaint over the restrictions on his use of the prison chapel in 2007.
     He alleged that the limits violated his right to freely practice his religion, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
     U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in Boise ruled for the officials, and a unanimous appellate panel affirmed on Tuesday.
     The RLUIPA, which was enacted under the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution, does not allow Wood to seek damages against prison officials in their individual capacities because they do not receive federal funds, the court found.
     “If an individual acts under color of state law to burden a plaintiff’s rights to religious exercise, the plaintiff can sue the government,” Judge Mary Schroeder wrote for a three-judge panel. “The statute does not authorize suits against a person in anything other than an official or governmental capacity, for it is only in that capacity that the funds are received. That is the only reading of the statute that is consistent with the decisions of our sister circuits and the constitutional limitations on the spending clause that the Supreme Court has recognized.”
     Wood also argued that the restrictions violated his First Amendment rights because they were enacted as retaliation for his previous lawsuit, but the panel found no evidence of “a retaliatory motive.”

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