NY inmates claim it’s their religious right to watch eclipse after state orders prisons locked down

It’s a total eclipse of their rights.

Six inmates at a New York prison are so eager to catch next week’s solar eclipse that they’re suing their lockup, claiming the rare spectacle is a “religious event” that they should be allowed to see.

The prisoners at Woodbourne Correctional Facility argue the April 8 phenomenon — in which the Moon will pass between the Sun and the Earth, immersing part of the state in darkness in the middle of the afternoon — should “warrant gathering, celebration, worship, and prayer,” their federal lawsuit states.

The men include a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria and even one atheist — who have all “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,” according to the suit filed Friday.

But state correction officials have planned a lockdown during the astronomical marvel, in a move that would breach the inmates’ constitutional rights to practice their religions, the suit alleges.

Six inmates with varying religious backgrounds at Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne are suing the state corrections department over the decisioning to lock down prisons during the solar eclipse. Medic18 / Wikipedia

The suit notes that an eclipse-like phenomenon is described in the Bible during Jesus’ crucifixion and that Islamic books of worship depict a similar event during the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son.

“As people with different beliefs come together to observe the eclipse, an incredible phenomenon that holds religious significance for many, we simply ask that [prison officials] allow our clients their Constitutional right to practice their faith,” Sharon Steinerman, a senior associate at white-shoe law firm Alston & Bird, which is repping the prisoners pro bono, told The Post Tuesday.

The lawyers filing the suit are seeking to make it a class action so that impacted inmates at other prisons across the state can join the legal battle.

The plaintiffs suing over the facility’s solar eclipse verdict are a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist and two practitioners of Santeria, as well as an atheist. AP

They are seeking a court order forcing the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to allow inmates to witness the event.

Everything to know about the 2024 solar eclipse

  • The solar eclipse will take place Monday, April 8, blocking the sun for over 180 million people in its path.
  • The eclipse will expand from Mexico’s Pacific Coast across North America, hitting 15 US states and pulling itself all the way to the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
  • New Yorkers will experience the solar eclipse just after 2 p.m. Monday.
  • A huge explosion on the sun, known as a coronal mass ejection, is anticipated, according to experts. This happens when massive particles from the sun are hurled out into space, explains Ryan French of the National Solar Observatory in Boulder, Colorado.
  • To avoid serious injury to the eyes, it is necessary to view the event through proper eyewear like eclipse glasses, or a handheld solar viewer, during the partial eclipse phase before and after totality.
  • The next total solar eclipse will take place on Aug. 12, 2026, and totality will be visible to those in Greenland, Iceland, Spain, Russia and a small slice of Portugal. 

State officials declared last month that they would have a system-wide lockdown during the eclipse, and that visitors will be prohibited from visiting inmates at prisons in the path of totality — when much of upstate is expected to be snarled by traffic.

The atheist plaintiff maintains that he received special permission to view the eclipse with state-provided protective glasses before the lockdown was announced.

Four other plaintiffs said the state denied their request to get a religious exemption because officials said the occasion was not considered a holy day in their religions. The remaining plaintiff said the state ignored his request.

The anticipated solar eclipse is set to happen on Monday, April 8. Johnny Horne/Special to The Fayetteville Observer / USA TODAY NETWORK

DOCCS spokesperson Thomas Mailey said the state takes all requests for religious accommodations under consideration and the eclipse-related requests were under review.

Daniel Martuscello III, the department’s acting commissioner, said solar eclipse safety glasses will be given to staff and inmates who can view the astronomical event — which isn’t expected to happen again until 2044 — from their work or housing units.

There would be no outdoor recreational activities permitted between 2 and 5 p.m., during the period when the Moon will eclipse the Sun and send much of the state into complete darkness for several minutes around 3:15 p.m.

Woodbourne, in Sullivan County, is not near the zone of totality but many of maximum and medium security prisons are, including Attica – home of the deadly 1971 riot, and Clinton Correctional Facility, where Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from in 2015.

With Post wires