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April 8 Total Solar Eclipse: Prison inmates in New York are suing the corrections department for total lockdown orders of the jail during the Total Solar Eclipse event on April 8, citing its “religious” significance. The suit argues that the order of total lockdown on the Total Solar Eclipse day violates the constitutional rights of the prison mates by preventing them from practicing their religion by taking part in the religious event.

The main plaintiffs include an atheist, a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-day Adventist and two practitioners of Santeria. They are six inmates from the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne.

The suit reads: “A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many.” The plea argues that phenomenon like a solar eclipse have been described in the Bible as well as in the sacred Islamic works during Jesus’ crucifixion and when Prophet Muhammad’s son died, respectively.

The complaint asserts that the celestial event was last visible in the United States in 2017 and won’t be seen again until 2044. It warrants “gathering, celebration, worship, and prayer,” the complaint reads. It also alleged that the atheist had received a special permission to watch the April 8 Total Solar Eclipse but now the lockdown has been announced.

Four of the other plaintiffs subsequently sought permission but were denied by officials who ruled the solar eclipse is not listed as a holy day for their religions, the lawsuit states. The sixth inmate said he never received a response.

Thomas Mailey, a corrections department spokesperson, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but takes all requests for religious accommodations under consideration.

Daniel Martuscello III, the department’s acting commissioner, issued a memo March 11 announcing that all state correctional facilities will operate on a holiday schedule next Monday.

That means incarcerated individuals will remain in their housing units except for emergency situations from 2 pm to 5 pm, which are generally the normal hours for outdoor recreation in prisons, according to the lawsuit. There will be no visitations and at other correctional facilities, the visitations will end at 2 pm.

The acting commissioner said safety glasses will be distributed among the staff and incarcerated individuals for them to watch the celestial event from their assigned work locations. The total eclipse is expected to be seen in those parts of New York around 3:15 pm and last mere minutes as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, temporarily blocking the sun and turning day into night.

(With inputs from PTI, AP)

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Published: 02 Apr 2024, 07:20 AM IST

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