Petitioner prisoner, an alleged Buddhist, complained that he was
not allowed to use the prison chapel, that he was prohibited from
writing to his religious advisor, and that he was placed in
solitary confinement for sharing his religious material with other
prisoners. The Federal District Court denied relief without a
hearing or findings, holding the complaint to be in an area that
should be left "to the sound discretion of prison administration."
The Court of Appeals affirmed.
On the basis of the allegations, Texas has
discriminated against petitioner by denying him a reasonable
opportunity to pursue his Buddhist faith comparable to that offered
other prisoners adhering to conventional religious precepts, and
the cause is remanded for a hearing and appropriate findings.
Certiorari granted; 445 F.2d 801, vacated and remanded.
The complaint, alleging a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, states that Cruz is a Buddhist, who is in a Texas prison.
While prisoners who are members of other religious sects are
allowed to use the prison chapel, Cruz is not. He shared his
Buddhist religious material with other prisoners and, according to
the allegations, in retaliation was placed in solitary confinement
on a diet of bread and water for two weeks, without access to
newspapers, magazines, or other sources of news. He also alleged
that he was prohibited from corresponding with his religious
advisor in the Buddhist sect. Those in the isolation unit spend 22
hours a day in total idleness. Again, according to the allegations,
Texas encourages inmates to participate in other religious
programs, providing at state expense chaplains of the Catholic,
Jewish, and Protestant faiths; providing also at state expense
copies of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, and conducting
Page 405 U. S. 320
weekly Sunday school classes and religious services. According
to the allegations, points of good merit are given prisoners as a
reward for attending orthodox religious services, those points
enhancing a prisoner's eligibility for desirable job assignments
and early parole consideration. [Footnote 1
] Respondent answered, denying the allegations
and moving to dismiss.
Page 405 U. S. 321
The Federal District Court denied relief without a hearing or
any findings, saying the complaint was in an area that should be
left "to the sound discretion of prison administration." It went on
to say, "Valid disciplinary and security reasons not known to this
court may prevent the equality' of exercise of religious
practices in prison." The Court of Appeals affirmed. 445 F.2d
Federal courts sit not to supervise prisons, but to enforce the
constitutional rights of all "persons," including prisoners. We are
not unmindful that prison officials must be accorded latitude in
the administration of prison affairs, and that prisoners
necessarily are subject to appropriate rules and regulations. But
persons in prison, like other individuals, have the right to
petition the Government for redress of grievances which, of course,
includes "access of prisoners to the courts for the purpose of
presenting their complaints." Johnson v. Avery,
393 U. S. 483
393 U. S. 485
Ex parte Hull, 312 U. S. 546
312 U. S. 549
See also Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U. S.
, aff'g Gilmore v. Lynch, 319 F.
(ND Cal.). Moreover, racial segregation, which is
unconstitutional outside prisons, is unconstitutional within
prisons, save for "the necessities of prison security and
discipline." Lee v. Washington, 390 U.
, 390 U. S. 334
Even more closely in point is Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.
, where we reversed a
Page 405 U. S. 322
dismissal of a complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We
said: "Taking as true the allegations of the complaint, as they
must be on a motion to dismiss, the complaint stated a cause of
The allegation made by that petitioner was
that solely because of his religious beliefs he was denied
permission to purchase certain religious publications and denied
other privileges enjoyed by other prisoners.
We said in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U. S.
, 355 U. S. 446
"a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a
claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove
no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to
If Cruz was a Buddhist and if he was denied a reasonable
opportunity of pursuing his faith comparable to the opportunity
afforded fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious
precepts, then there was palpable discrimination by the State
against the Buddhist religion, established 600 B. C., long before
the Christian era. [Footnote 2
The First Amendment, applicable to the States by reason of the
Fourteenth Amendment, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.
, 367 U. S.
-493, prohibits government from making a law
"prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. If the allegations of
this complaint are assumed to be true, as they must be on the
motion to dismiss, Texas has violated the First and Fourteenth
The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis
Page 405 U. S. 323
is granted. The petition for certiorari is granted, the judgment
is vacated, and the cause remanded for a hearing and appropriate
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN concurs in the result.
The amended complaint alleges, inter alia:
"Plaintiff is an inmate of the Texas Department of Corrections
and is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America. At the time of
filing of this suit, he was incarcerated at the Eastham Unit and
has since been transferred to the Ellis Unit. There is a
substantial number of prisoners in the Texas Department of
Corrections who either are adherents of the Buddhist Faith or who
wish to explore the gospel of Buddhism; however, the Defendants
have refused in the past, and continue to refuse, Buddhists the
right to hold religious services or to disseminate the teachings of
Buddha. The Plaintiff has been prevented by the Defendants from
borrowing or lending Buddhist religious books and materials and has
been punished by said Defendants by being placed in solitary
confinement on a diet of bread and water for two weeks for sharing
his Buddhist religious material with other prisoners."
"Despite repeated requests to Defendants for the use of prison
chapel facilities for the purpose of holding Buddhist religious
services and the denials thereof the Defendants have promulgated
customs and regulations which maintain a religious program within
the penal system under which: "
"A. Consecrated chaplains of the Protestant, Jewish and Roman
Catholic religions at state expense are assigned to various
"B. Copies of the Holy Bible (Jewish and Christian) are
distributed at state expense free to all prisoners."
"C. Religious services and religious classes for Protestant,
Jewish and Roman Catholic adherents are held regularly in chapel
facilities erected at state expense for 'non-denominational'
"D. Records are maintained by Defendants of religious
participation by inmates."
"E. Religious participation is encouraged on inmates by the
Defendants as necessary steps toward true rehabilitation."
"F. Points of good merit are given to inmates by the Defendants
as a reward for religious participation in Protestant, Jewish and
Roman Catholic faiths which enhance on inmates eligibility for
promotions in class, job assignment and parole."
"Because inmates of the Buddhist faith are being denied the
right to participate in the religious program made available for
Protestant, Jewish and Roman Catholic faiths by the Defendants,
Plaintiff and the members of the class he represents are being
subjected to an arbitrary and unreasonable exclusion without any
lawful justification which invidiously discriminates against them
in violation of their constitutional right of religious freedom and
denies them equal protection of the laws."
We do not suggest, of course, that every religious sect or group
within a prison -- however few in number -- must have identical
facilities or personnel. A special chapel or place of worship need
not be provided for every faith regardless of size; nor must a
chaplain, priest, or minister be provided without regard to the
extent of the demand. But reasonable opportunities must be afforded
to all prisoners to exercise the religious freedom guaranteed by
the First and Fourteenth Amendments without fear of penalty.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring in the result.
I concur in the result reached even though the allegations of
the complaint are on the borderline necessary to compel an
evidentiary hearing. Some of the claims alleged are frivolous;
others do not present justiciable issues. There cannot possibly be
any constitutional or legal requirement that the government provide
materials for every religion and sect practiced in this diverse
country. At most, Buddhist materials cannot be denied to prisoners
if someone offers to supply them.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
Unlike the Court, I am not persuaded that petitioner's complaint
states a claim under the First Amendment, or that, if the opinion
of the Court of Appeals is vacated, the trial court must
necessarily conduct a trial upon the complaint. [Footnote 2/1
Under the First Amendment, of course, Texas may neither
"establish a religion" nor may it "impair the free exercise"
thereof. Petitioner alleges that voluntary services are made
available at prison facilities so that Protestants, Catholics, and
Jews may attend church services of their choice. None of our prior
Page 405 U. S. 324
indicates that such a program on the part of prison officials
amounts to the establishment of a religion.
Petitioner is a prisoner serving 15 years for robbery in a Texas
penitentiary. He is understandably not as free to practice his
religion as if he were outside the prison walls. But there is no
intimation in his pleadings that he is being punished for his
religious views, as was the case in Cooper v. Pate,
378 U. S. 546
(1964), where a prisoner was denied the receipt of mail about his
religion. Cooper presented no question of interference with prison
administration of the type that would be involved here in retaining
chaplains, scheduling the use of prison facilities, and timing the
activities of various prisoners.
None of our holdings under the First Amendment requires that, in
addition to being allowed freedom of religious belief, prisoners be
allowed freely to evangelize their views among other prisoners.
There is no indication in petitioner's complaint that the prison
officials have dealt more strictly with his efforts to convert
other convicts to Buddhism than with efforts of communicants of
other faiths to make similar conversions.
By reason of his status, petitioner is obviously limited in the
extent to which he may practice his religion. He is assuredly not
free to attend the church of his choice outside the prison walls.
But the fact that the Texas prison system offers no Buddhist
services at this particular prison does not, under the
circumstances pleaded in his complaint, demonstrate that his
religious freedom is being impaired. Presumably prison officials
are not obligated to provide facilities for any particular
denominational services within a prison, although, once they
undertake to provide them for some, they must make only such
reasonable distinctions as may survive analysis under the Equal
Page 405 U. S. 325
What petitioner's basic claim amounts to is that, because prison
facilities are provided for denominational services for religions
with more numerous followers, the failure to provide prison
facilities for Buddhist services amounts to a denial of the equal
protection of the laws. There is no indication from petitioner's
complaint how many practicing Buddhists there are in the particular
prison facility in which he is incarcerated, nor is there any
indication of the demand upon available facilities for other
prisoner activities. Neither the decisions of this Court after full
argument nor those summarily re-versing the dismissal of a
prisoner's civil rights complaint [Footnote 2/2
] have ever given full consideration to the
proper balance to be struck between prisoners' rights and the
extensive administrative discretion that must rest with correction
officials. I would apply the rule of deference to administrative
discretion that has been overwhelmingly accepted in the courts of
appeals. [Footnote 2/3
that, I would at least hear argument as to what rule should
A long line of decisions by this Court has recognized that the
"equal protection of the laws" guaranteed by the Fourteenth
Amendment is not to be applied in a precisely equivalent way in the
multitudinous fact situations
Page 405 U. S. 326
that may confront the courts. [Footnote 2/4
] On the one hand, we have held that racial
classifications are "invidious" and "suspect." [Footnote 2/5
] I think it quite consistent with the
intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, many of whom
would doubtless be surprised to know that convicts came within its
ambit, to treat prisoner claims at the other end of the spectrum
from claims of racial discrimination. Absent a complaint alleging
facts showing that the difference in treatment between petitioner
and his fellow Buddhists and practitioners of denominations with
more numerous adherents could not reasonably be justified under any
rational hypothesis, I would leave the matter in the hands of the
prison officials. [Footnote
It has been assumed that the dismissal by the trial court must
be treated as proper only if the standard of Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U. S. 41
(1957), would permit the grant of a motion under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc.
12(b)(6). I would not require the district court to inflexibly
apply this general principle to the complaint of every inmate, who
is in many respects in a different litigating posture than persons
who are unconfined. The inmate stands to
Page 405 U. S. 327
gain something and lose nothing from a complaint stating facts
that he is ultimately unable to prove. [Footnote 2/7
] Though he may be denied legal relief, he
will nonetheless have obtained a short sabbatical in the nearest
federal courthouse. [Footnote 2/8
To expand the availability of such courtroom appearances by
requiring the district court to construe
Page 405 U. S. 328
every inmate's complaint under the liberal rule of Conley v.
deprives those courts of the latitude necessary to
process this ever-increasing species of complaint. [Footnote 2/9
Finally, a factual hearing should not be imperative on remand if
dismissal is appropriate on grounds other than failure to state a
claim for relief. It is evident from the record before us that the
in forma pauperis
complaint might well have been dismissed
as "frivolous or malicious" under the discretion vested in the
trial court by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d). [Footnote 2/10
] This power is not limited or impaired by
the strictures of Rule 12(b). Fletcher v. Young,
222 (CA4 1955). Although the trial court based its dismissal on
12(b)(6) grounds, this record would support a dismissal as
The State's answer to the complaint showed that the identical
issues of religious freedoms were litigated by another prisoner
from the same institution, claiming the
Page 405 U. S. 329
same impairment of the practice of the Buddhist religion, which
was brought by the attorney employed at the prison to provide legal
services for the inmates. It is not clear whether petitioner here
was a party to that suit, as he was to many suits filed by his
fellow prisoners. If he was, the instant claim may be barred under
the doctrine of res judicata.
In any event, a prior
adjudication of the same claim by another prisoner under identical
circumstances would be a substantial factor in a decision to
dismiss this claim as frivolous.
In addition, the trial court had before it the dismissal of
another of petitioner's cases filed shortly before the instant
action, where the trial judge had been exposed to myriad previous
actions, and found them to be "voluminous, repetitious, duplicitous
and in many instances deceitful." [Footnote 2/11
] Whether petitioner might have raised his
claim in these or several other actions in which he joined other
prisoner plaintiffs is also proper foundation for a finding that
this complaint is "frivolous or malicious." Whatever might be the
posture of this constitutional claim if petitioner had never
flooded the courts with repetitive and duplicitous claims, and if
it had not recently been adjudicated in an identical proceeding, I
believe it could be dismissed as frivolous in the case before
The Court "remand[s] for a hearing and appropriate findings,"
this page. But, of course, the only procedural
vehicle for making such findings in this civil litigation would be
the trial to which any civil litigant is entitled, inasmuch as this
Court has never dealt with the special procedural problems
presented by prisoners' civil suite. See
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U. S. 519
(1972); Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U. S.
(1971); Houghton v. Shafer, 392 U.
(1968); Lee v. Washington, 390 U.
(1968); Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.
Douglas v. Siler,
386 F.2d 684, 688 (CA8 1967);
Carey v. Settle,
351 F.2d 483 (CA8 1965); Carswell v.
413 F.2d 1044 (CA5 1969); Walker v. Pate,
356 F.2d 502 (CA7 1966). I do not read Johnson v. Avery,
393 U. S. 483
(1969), which was concerned with the prisoners' traditional remedy
of habeas corpus, to reach the issue of a statutory civil cause of
action such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
See generally McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.
(1961); Dandridge v. Williams,
397 U. S. 471
(1970); F. S. Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U.
(1920); Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U. S.
(1968); Carrington v. Rash, 380 U. S.
(1965), as examples of the spectrum of Fourteenth
Amendment review standards.
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1
Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.
Petitioner (represented by a lawyer who drafted the complaint)
alleged that he was excluded from participation in religious
programs and that the exclusion was "arbitrary and unreasonable . .
. without any lawful justification." Holding counsel to standards
of pleading applied to other prisoners' claims for relief,
conclusions of arbitrariness are insufficient, e.g., Williams
377 F.2d 505 (CA9 1967); United States ex rel.
Hoge v. Bolsinger,
311 F.2d 215 (CA3 1962).
"The last type of writ-writer to be discussed writes writs for
economic gain. This group is comprised of a few unscrupulous
manipulators who are interested only in acquiring from other
prisoners money, cigarettes, or merchandise purchased in the inmate
canteen. Once they have a 'client's' interest aroused and determine
his ability to pay, they must keep him on the 'hook.' This is
commonly done by deliberately misstating the facts of his case so
that it appears, at least on the surface, that the inmate is
entitled to relief. The documents drafted for the client cast the
writ-writer in the role of a sympathetic protagonist. After reading
them, the inmate is elated that he has found someone able to
present his case favorably. He is willing to pay to maintain the
lie that has been created for him."
Larsen, A Prisoner Looks at Writ-Writing, 56 Calif.L.Rev. 343,
"When decisions do not help a writ-writer, he may employ a
handful of tricks which damage his image in the state courts. Some
of the not too subtle subterfuges used by a small minority of
writ-writers would tax the credulity of any lawyer. One writ-writer
simply made up his own legal citations when he ran short of actual
ones. In one action against the California Adult Authority
involving the application of administrative law, one writ-writer
used the following citations: Aesop v. Fables, First Baptist
Church v. Sally Stanford, Doda v. One Forty-four Inch Chest,
and Dogood v. The Planet Earth.
The references to the
volumes and page numbers of the nonexistent publications were
equally fantastic, such as 901 Pen Review, page 17,240. To
accompany each case, he composed an eloquent decision which, if
good law, would make selected acts of the Adult Authority
unconstitutional. In time, the 'decisions' freely circulated among
other writ-writers, and several gullible ones began citing them
"[T]emporary relief from prison confinement is always an
alluring prospect, and, to the hardened criminal, the possibility
of escape lurks in every excursion beyond prison walls."
Price v. Johnston,
159 F.2d 234, 237 (CA9 1947).
Cf. Price v. Johnston, 334 U.
, 334 U. S.
-285 (1948), giving to the courts of appeals the
necessary discretion to determine when prisoners should be allowed
to argue their habeas corpus appeals in person:
"If it is apparent that the request of the prisoner to argue
personally reflects something more than a mere desire to be freed
temporarily from the confines of the prison, that he is capable of
conducting an intelligent and responsible argument, and that his
presence in the courtroom may be secured without undue
inconvenience or danger, the court would be justified in issuing
Here, the question is whether prisoners can in every case be
permitted to file a complaint, conduct the full range of pretrial
discovery, and commence a trial (including presumably trial by
jury) at which he and other prisoners will appear as witnesses. The
summary reversal effected here encourages such a result without
permitting the district courts to exercise the type of discretion
permitted in Price
and without providing any guidance for
their accommodation of the special problems of prisoner litigation
with a fair determination of such complaints under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
as are rightfully filed.
Reece v. Washington,
310 F.2d 139 (CA9 1962);
Conway v. Oliver,
429 F.2d 1307 (CA9 1970).