United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
PIPER A. ROUNTREE, Plaintiff,
HAROLD CLARKE, ET AL., Defendant(s).
E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.
A. Rountree, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this
civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to
2000cc-5. She contends that prison officials have refused to
approve yoga mats as personal faith objects so she can
possess and use such a mat to practice yoga in her cell
according to her Buddhist religious beliefs. After review of
the record, the court concludes that the defendants are
entitled to summary judgment.
is incarcerated at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women
("FCCW"). In the second amended complaint
(hereinafter "complaint"),  She states that even before
her incarceration, she became an adherent of Buddhism and
took Dharma vows, including a vow to live a healthy
lifestyle through exercise, walking, and practicing yoga.
Generally, the Buddhist practice strongly emphasizes
maintaining a regimen that is daily in nature. The
daily practices include meditating, studying, living, and
practicing the Buddhists' tenets, and practicing yoga.
For Buddhists, it is of paramount importance that these
practices are adhered to on a daily rather than weekly or
sporadic basis. Since the point of the practices is to create
or maintain an optimally healthy mindset, physical state, and
habits, only daily and repeated practice will create and
maintain the optimal health and mindset sought....
Part of [Rountree's] sincerely held religious beliefs
include[s] this daily practice of the yoga asanas.
Asanas are the physical posture of yoga taken for the
spiritual and meditative purpose. This practice usually takes
a total of 2 hours to perform, at intervals or in a
continuous, focused meditative session.
(Compl. 9, ECF No. 39) (emphasis in original). Rountree
contends that yoga mats are necessary for the safe and
correct practice of yoga.
The non-slip, cushioned, unique design of . . . yoga mats
allow[s] silent ease of often rapid flowing moves. Where the
Buddhist's practice also includes extended seated
meditation, doubled and rolled-up yoga mats [as a substitute
for Buddhist meditation cushions called zafus] allow
for positioning the body in the correct [upright] posture
complains that the VDOC will not allow her to possess a yoga
mat in her own cell to perform daily yoga maneuvers and that
doing yoga exercises and mediation poses without a yoga mat
has caused her pain and injuries. Rountree asserts that she
cannot properly practice her Buddhist beliefs.
Without daily use of the yoga mat, she cannot perform the
complete set of yoga postures, cannot hold correct alignment
without severe pain and injury, and cannot practice or
maintain[ ] the required breath and mind focus or control.
Furthermore, without the silenced cushioning, the practice
tends to become a point of noisy contention between
roommates, leading to a violation of her first
Dharma vow. Without such yoga mat for meditation,
she's forced to sit in either a crunched position on her
bed (because of overhead obstructions), or she faces
violating sanitary standards and prison ordinances for using
her blankets on the floor. Extensive prostrations have become
painful and noisy without the cushioning.
Department of Corrections ("VDOC") Operating
Procedures require that the Faith Review Committee
("FRC") must review and approve any property item
requested for an inmate's religious practices. The FRC is
a panel of representative VDOC staff who receive referrals
from Facility Unit Heads on requested faith property and
practices, and determine whether a requested property item,
practice, or accommodation should or should not be approved
in accordance with VDOC procedures and operational concerns.
The stated purpose of this centralized approval of inmate
faith items is to maintain "consistency for offender
accommodation of religious property and practices"
throughout the VDOC. OP 841.3(IV)(D). Attachment 5 of OP
841.3 lists individual faith items already approved by the
FRC for an inmate to possess in cell for religious practices.
To request any exception to the operating procedure, an
inmate must complete a "Request for Approval of Faith
Object" form through the Facility Unit Head, to the FRC
for review. All FRC decisions must also be reviewed and
approved by the Chief of Corrections Operations and the
Corrections Operations Administrator before implementation.
list of approved faith items is particularized. For example,
the FRC reviewed prayer rugs, found them to be widely
recognized as necessary and integral to the practice of
certain religions, and approved them for addition to the list
of individual faith property items. An approved prayer rug
maybe no larger than 48" x 30" and must normally be
stored in the inmate's locker when not in use for
religious observance. Rountree possesses an approved prayer
rug in her cell.
also reviewed yoga mats and determined that they were not
considered required articles of faith in the practice of
Buddhism. Nevertheless, the FRC approved "integral yoga
mats" as "communal property" to be
"stored in recreation area" for inmates to use in
activities, including religious practice and rituals. OP
841.3, Attach. 5. The FRC did not approve yoga mats for
individual inmate possession in cell because of storage,
sanitation, and security concerns.
defendants present the affidavit of Elisabeth Thornton, the
former Corrections Operation Administrator for the VDOC,
identifying several security and safety concerns posed by
allowing an inmate to possess a yoga mat in cell. An inmate
could use a yoga mat (also known as a sticky mat) to better
maintain footing and balance when physically resisting
security staff, to block OC spray, to hinder a canine, and to
act as a buffer between the inmate and security staff during
an incident. An inmate could use a yoga mat to hide
contraband easily within the folds, thus slowing staffs
search ability and creating a safety concern for inmates and
staff. A standard yoga mat (68" x
24")rolled up, could function as a
two-foot-long club of 4" to 5" in diameter and be
used as a weapon. Also, if one inmate were allowed to use a
yoga mat in cell, it would cover a majority of the shared
space and interfere with a cell mate's access to the bunk
area, possibly leading to arguments or physical altercations
between cell mates. Finally, yoga mats can stick to the
floors if not cleaned regularly. They are porous and hold
sweat, oils, and dead skin from users.
of these security and sanitation concerns, the FRC did not
approve yoga mats as individual faith objects, and Rountree
may not possess and store a yoga mat in her cell. She can and
does check out a ...