from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:15-cv-14449-Bernard A.
Friedman, District Judge.
Sentelle Cavin, New Haven, Michigan, pro se.
L. Thurber, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing,
Michigan, for Appellee.
Before: ROGERS, SUTTON, and READLER, Circuit Judges.
SUTTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Cavin is an inmate in the custody of the Michigan Department
of Corrections who practices Wicca. While the Department
permits Cavin and other Wiccans to congregate on some
holidays, it prevents their group worship on others and
limits their use of ritualistic items when alone. Cavin filed
this lawsuit to eliminate these restrictions and to seek
damages. At summary judgment, the district court ruled
against Cavin on the damages claim. After a trial, the
district court held that the Department's policy did not
substantially burden Cavin's religious exercise under the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Because
a policy substantially burdens religious exercise when it
bars an inmate from worshipping with others and from using
ritualistic items, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and
Michigan prisons allow Wiccan inmates to worship as a group
for eight major holidays known as Sabbats, which occur
periodically throughout the year. Wiccans celebrate other
holidays, called Esbats, each lunar month, approximately
twelve to thirteen times a year. Cavin wishes to worship with
his co-religionists on Esbats. When Cavin observes Esbats by
himself in his cell, he faces additional drawbacks. The
prison permits Wiccan inmates to use candles and incense only
in the prison's chapel, so Cavin cannot access the items
that he needs for rituals. And if his cellmate proves
unfriendly, Cavin has trouble conducting religious rites.
asked the Department of Corrections to allow him and other
Wiccans to celebrate Esbats together. Officials denied his
request. In response, he filed this lawsuit, requesting
injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (known as RLUIPA to most
lawyers). He also sought damages from the Department and
Chaplain David Leach, who oversees the Department's
summary judgment, the court ruled that Eleventh Amendment
immunity barred the damages claims against the Department;
that Chaplain Leach deserved qualified immunity; and that
only Cavin's RLUIPA claim for religious accommodation
bench trial, the court rejected Cavin's RLUIPA claim for
injunctive relief, concluding that the prison's
regulations implicate but do not burden Cavin's exercise
prohibits a State from imposing "a substantial burden on
the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to
an institution" unless the government shows that the
burden furthers "a compelling governmental
interest" and "is the least restrictive means"
of doing so. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). That makes the
statute a three-act play. In Act One, the inmate must
demonstrate that he seeks to exercise religion out of a
"sincerely held religious belief." See Holt v.
Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853, 862 (2015). In Act Two, he must
show that the government substantially burdened that