New York inmates sue corrections department to watch solar eclipse amid planned prison lockdowns

At least 6 prisoners say a planned lockdown during the eclipse violates their religious rights

A blood moon lunar eclipse shines in the night sky

A blood moon lunar eclipse shines in the night sky.

Several inmates at a New York state prison are suing the corrections department over its decision to lock down correctional facilities during next week's total solar eclipse, saying it infringes on their right to practice their faith.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court by six inmates incarcerated at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne, located about 110 miles north of New York City. 

The inmates vary in religious backgrounds and include an atheist, a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, and two practitioners of Santeria.


Solar eclipse

This combination of photos shows the path of the sun during a total eclipse by the moon on Aug. 21, 2017, near Redmond, Ore. On April 8, 2024, spectators who aren't near the path of totality or who get cloudy weather on eclipse day can still catch the total solar eclipse. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

"A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many," the complaint states. "To this day, solar eclipses, like the one on April 8th, are recognized by various religions as special events that warrant gathering, celebration, worship, and prayer."

The eclipse was last seen in 2017, and won't occur after April 8 until 2044. 

The plaintiffs — Jeremy Zielinski, Travis Hudson Bruce Moses, Oscar Nunez, Jean Marc Desmarat and David Haigh — said the lockdown violates their constitutional rights to practice their faith by preventing them from taking part in a religiously significant event.

Zielinski, 40, an atheist, is serving time for a first-degree rape conviction but has priors for promoting sexual performance by a child and attempting to disseminate indecent material of a minor, according to the New York incarcerated persons database. 


Solae eclipse pictured with a sign of a New York state prison

Six New York prison inmates are suing over planned lockdowns on April 8, the day of the total solar eclipse.  (AP Ted S. Warren; NY Assemblymember Edward Gibbs)

Hudson, 50, a Baptist, was convicted for course of sexual conduct against a child. Moses, also 50, practices Santeria and is serving time for second-degree assault, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a controlled substance. 

Nunez, 49, who also practices Santeria, was convicted of second-degree attempted murder. Desmarat, 53, a Muslim, is incarcerated for second-degree murder and Haigh, 49, a Seventh Day Adventist, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. 

Daniel F. Martuscello III, acting commissioner for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), issued a memo in March stating all prisons would operate on a holiday schedule on April 8, DOCCS told Fox News Digital. Inmates will be returned to their housing units at 2 p.m. on the day of the eclipse. 

total solar eclipse

Six prisoners at Woodbourne Correctional Facility in New York argue that a state-wide prison lockdown during the total solar eclipse on April 8 would violate their constitutional rights to practice their respective religions.  (iStock)

Visitations at more than two dozen corrections facilities will be suspended that day, while visits at other facilities will end at 2 p.m. Normal operations will resume at all prisons on April 9. 

A DOCCS spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation. 

The department said it will distribute solar eclipse safety glasses for staff and inmates at prisons in the path of the eclipse, so they can view the celestial event from their assigned work location or housing units.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Louis Casiano is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Authored by Louis Casiano via FoxNews April 2nd 2024