6 Incarcerated Men Sue New York Department of Corrections to See Solar Eclipse

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New York State is one of the 13 states within the eclipse’s path.

Six New York State inmates are suing the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), demanding they be allowed to view the solar eclipse Monday, according to reports.

The complaint, obtained by the Times Union, was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York and alleges the inmates will have their constitutional rights violated if they aren’t allowed to observe the eclipse from the prison yard, calling it a religious event they need to witness and reflect upon as part of their faiths.

The six plaintiffs at Woodbourne Correctional Facility who filed the suite include a Muslim, a Baptist, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two Santeria practitioners and an atheist, according to the Times Union.

"A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many," the complaint obtained by NPR said.

The complaint also noted that Bible passages describe an eclipse-like phenomenon during Jesus' crucifixion while sacred Islamic works describes a similar event when the Prophet Muhammad's son died, according to NPR.

The eclipse was last visible in the U.S. in 2017 and won't be seen in America again until 2044, NPR reported.

The complaint says that Monday’s eclipse is a "warrant gathering, celebration, worship, and prayer," according to NPR.

In a lawsuit, the inmates also argue that the afternoon hours are usually a time for outdoor recreation, that no lockdown was in place during the last solar eclipse of 2017, Newsweek reported.

The lawsuit also says that the inmates made adequate requests to have the eclipse event recognized back in January, Newsweek reported.

In March, a statewide memorandum was sent out to all DOCCS facilities across the state and said prisoners will not see the eclipse, according to Newsweek.

“There will be no incarcerated movement in facilities from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and incarcerated individuals will remain in housing units except for emergency situations,” the memo said, Newsweek reported.

In response to Inside Edition Digital’s request for comment, DOCCS said an email that “the Department does not comment on pending litigation.”  The email also said, "In anticipation of the eclipse on April 8, 2024, the Department has taken a proactive approach to ensure the safety of New York State's incarcerated population and releasees as well as DOCCS staff. Acting Commissioner Daniel F. Martuscello III issued a memo to staff and the incarcerated population detailing the Department’s operational changes for the eclipse, as well as safety precautions to be followed during the event. Superintendents will meet with Incarcerated Liaison Committees in advance of the event to discuss the precautions.

"On the day of the eclipse, all DOCCS correctional facilities will operate on a holiday schedule with only programs required by statute operating. The Department has ordered and will distribute solar eclipse safety glasses for all staff, incarcerated individuals, and community supervision bureaus at DOCCS facilities in the path of totality in the event they will be able to view the eclipse from their assigned work location or housing units. Beginning at 2pm individuals will be returned to their housing units until which time the dinner meal begins.
"Recognizing the surge of visitors expected in the region during the eclipse, the Department is working with the New York State Eclipse Interagency Task Force to ensure DOCCS visitors and staff are not stuck in traffic or otherwise stranded.  For this reason, visitation will be suspended at all DOCCS facilities in the path of totality on Monday, April 8, 2024and will resume on Tuesday, April 9. The correctional facilities affected include: Adirondack, Albion, Altona, Attica, Auburn, Bare Hill, Cape Vincent, Cayuga, Clinton, Collins, Five Points, Franklin, Gouverneur, Groveland, Lakeview Shock, Marcy, Mid-State, Mohawk, Orleans, Riverview, Upstate, Wende, and Wyoming. Visitation in all other DOCCS facilities will end at 2pm on April 8.
"For all facilities in the path of totality, Family Reunion Program (FRP) units should be vacated on Sunday, April 7, 2024. FRP visits may resume at facilities within the path of totality on April 9, 2024. These include facilities that utilize the shared site of an FRP facility in the glide path. FRP units at facilities that are not located in the path of totality, must be vacated and FRP visits terminated by noon on Monday, April 8, 2024. Normal operations will resume on April 9, 2024.
"Pursuant to Directive 4202, the Department takes all requests for religious accommodations under consideration. Religious requests related to viewing the eclipse are currently under review."

Inside Edition Digital has also reached out to the law firm representing the plaintiffs for comment and has not heard back.

Monday’s eclipse will start over the skies of Texas, moving northeast across the country through the Midwest and New England with nearly 32 million people living in its path, Newsweek reported.

New York State is one of the 13 states in the eclipse’s path.

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