Posted on September 27, 2022

Court: Prison Must Exempt Muslim Inmate From Strip Search by Transgender Guards

Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 20, 2022

A Wisconsin prisoner who was strip searched by a transgender male guard says the search unlawfully violated his Muslim faith, and a federal court has ruled it shouldn’t happen again.

The search of Rufus West took place in 2016 at Green Bay Correctional Institution. West sued after he was denied exemptions from such future searches, and was threatened with discipline if he continued to complain. A federal district judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding West hadn’t shown a substantial burden to his free exercise of religion. Even if he had, the search was legal as the least restrictive way to further a compelling governmental interest, the judge found.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed, and granted relief to West.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Chief Judge Diane Sykes found West is entitled to judgment under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, and can pursue his second claim under the Fourth Amendment.

“There’s no dispute (Rufus’s) objection to cross-sex strip searches is both religious in nature and sincere,” Sykes wrote. “The prison has substantially burdened his religious exercise by requiring him to either submit to cross-sex strip searches in violation of his faith or face discipline.”

Accommodating West’s religion would not discriminate against the transgender guard, the decision found.


West, 51, was convicted in 1995 in Milwaukee of armed robbery and being a felon with a gun. He is due for release in 2024. {snip}