New York Inmates Sue Department of Corrections for Scheduling Lockdown During Solar Eclipse

Partial solar eclipse against a dark sky
(Photo by Luis Barron / Eyepix Group)

Inmates at a New York prison are suing the state's Department of Corrections after learning a mandatory lockdown would prevent them from seeing the solar eclipse.

The men are incarcerated at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility, and they're fighting to get the opportunity to witness the rare event. According to their lawsuit, the lockdown that will keep them from seeing the event violates their constitutional religious rights.

Amongst the inmates are a Muslim, a Baptist, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two Santería believers, and an atheist. They've "expressed a sincerely held religious belief that April's solar eclipse is a religious event that they must witness and reflect on to observe their faiths."

One of the inmates, Jeremy Zielinski, said the eclipse has great significance to his atheist beliefs as it celebrates "science and reason," according to their lawsuit. However, that permission was taken away when the lockdown was announced.

"Mr. Zielinski firmly believes that observing the solar eclipse with people of different faiths is crucial to practicing his own faith because it is a central aspect of atheism to celebrate common humanity and bring people together to encourage people to find common ground," the lawsuit states.

The Seventh-Day Adventist, David Haigh, told New York news outlet Hell Gate, "It will be 20 years before another opportunity like this exists. I don't believe that just because I am incarcerated that I should be denied this opportunity, especially when this eclipse is scheduled to happen during normal outside recreation time."

According to a representative of the Department of Corrections, safety glasses to view the eclipse will be handed out to inmates "in the event they will be able to view the eclipse from their assigned work location or housing units."

The solar eclipse will take place on April 8 and won't be visible again until 2044. The last one was seen in 2017.

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