In August 2018, Rob Ellis and Steven Messer represented three Native American inmates in a religious liberties trial in federal court in Corpus Christi before Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos. Their clients wished to grow their hair long in accordance with their Native American religious beliefs, however, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice does not allow male inmates to grow their hair long and refused to grant their request for a religious exemption. Our clients asserted claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a sister statute to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
On January 24, Judge Ramos issued her findings of fact and conclusions of law, handing our clients a complete win, siding with them on every factual and legal point, finding that the state’s refusal to grant a religious exemption advanced no compelling governmental interest and was not the least restrictive means of enforcing any such interest. The court also awarded our clients their reasonable attorney fees and costs.
“This is an important victory because it could have a significant impact on how Texas treats religious minorities in its prisons,” observes Ellis, adding, “It was a real privilege for Steven and me to have been asked by the Federal Bar Association to represent these inmates, made even more impactful by Judge Ramos’ thoughtful and clear ruling.”