Prisoners Who Sued Over Lockdown Will Be Allowed to View Solar Eclipse

New York State’s corrections department agreed on Thursday to allow six men who had sued to be able to view Monday’s total solar eclipse to do so at the upstate prison where they are held, but the department stopped short of lifting a statewide prison lockdown during the eclipse.

The men, inmates at Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Sullivan County, filed a federal lawsuit last week arguing that the lockdown during the eclipse violated their constitutional right to practice their religion.

Though they come from varying religious backgrounds, the men all believe that the eclipse “is a religious event that they must witness and reflect on to observe their faiths,” according to court documents.

“This is a huge win for them — they are all ecstatic,” said Chris McArdle, one of the lawyers who represented the men. “Keeping our fingers crossed that it’s not cloudy or raining, they are going to be able to practice their sincerely held religious beliefs, which is the outcome we always wanted for them.”

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in a statement that the lawsuit had come “to an appropriate resolution.”

Jeremy Zielinski, one of the men who filed the lawsuit, asked in January for permission to watch the eclipse from Woodbourne’s main yard. In his written request to prison officials, Mr. Zielinski, who is an atheist, said he believed eclipses were times to “celebrate science, reason and all things Atheism.”

After his request was approved in March, other people in the prison told Mr. Zielinski that they also believed eclipses were religiously significant events. He asked prison officials if others could be permitted to watch the eclipse alongside him.

“It frankly would be incredibly sad to be the only person able to see this event,” Mr. Zielinski wrote in that request. He added, “Eclipses are important because they inspire awe and deep reflection, and are a rare opportunity for everyone to come together, enjoy our common humanity, and share joy at being alive.”

Days later, the corrections department announced that all New York prisons would be locked down during the solar eclipse, whose path of totality includes 29 counties in northern and western New York.

“Incarcerated individuals will remain in housing units except for emergency situations,” Daniel F. Martuscello III, the department’s acting commissioner, wrote in a statewide memo, which was first reported by the news website Hell Gate.

These measures, Mr. Martuscello said in the memo, were to “ensure the safety of staff, visitors and the incarcerated population, and to ensure the integrity of our facilities during this event.”

As of Thursday evening, the department had agreed only to allow the six men who filed the lawsuit to view the eclipse on Monday. Other people in state prisons who want to observe the eclipse for religious reasons can request permission, Mr. McArdle said, adding that he expected the department to “evaluate those requests as it has done with our six clients at Woodbourne and go from there.”

“We were always optimistic we would have a decision this week,” said Mr. McArdle, of the firm Alston & Bird, who represented the men without charging them. “I think it was with the court’s help that we got this result with adequate time to spare before the eclipse.”

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