New York Inmates Will See Upcoming Eclipse After Winning Lawsuit

Solar Eclipse

A group of inmates in New York has achieved a significant legal victory and will now have the chance to witness the upcoming solar eclipse.

The inmates have prevailed in a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

The lawsuit, filed on March 29 in federal court in upstate New York, contended that Woodbourne Correctional Facility’s classification of the eclipse as a holiday violated the inmates’ constitutional rights to practice their faith.

Typically, holidays in prisons mandate that inmates remain confined to their cells from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., coinciding with the usual outdoor activity schedule, unless there is an emergency.

Jeremy Zielinski, an atheist and one of the six plaintiffs in the case, emphasized the rare and natural significance of witnessing a solar eclipse, which holds religious importance for many individuals.

Drawing parallels to religious narratives, the suit underscored the eclipse’s symbolism akin to occurrences during Jesus’s crucifixion and in Islamic texts.

Following negotiations, Zielinski and the other plaintiffs, representing diverse religious backgrounds, reached a settlement with the corrections department on April 4, ensuring their access to view the eclipse.

The corrections department clarified that it had been reviewing religious requests, including those from the six inmates involved in the lawsuit, prior to the legal action.

It affirmed its commitment to allowing the designated individuals to observe the eclipse as per their sincerely held religious beliefs.

In response to the settlement, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, including Chris McArdle, Sharon Steinerman, and Madeline Byrd of Alston & Bird, expressed satisfaction with the outcome, citing the acknowledgment of their clients’ religious rights.

The solar eclipse, a rare celestial event where the moon obscures the sun, is scheduled to occur on April 8. Although Woodbourne is not in the path of the total eclipse, the inmates will have the opportunity to witness the partial coverage of the sun, with the peak expected around 3:25 p.m.

This legal triumph grants the incarcerated individuals the chance to partake in a unique natural spectacle, an experience that holds cultural and spiritual significance, despite their confinement.