Poyner Spruill Succeeds in Changing State Prison Policy in Case Involving Religious Freedom

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CHARLOTTE, NC—Poyner Spruill is pleased to announce that attorneys J.M. Durnovich and Cosmo Zinkow and legal assistant Kim Simon obtained a notable victory in a pro bono case involving religious freedom.

The Poyner team was appointed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to represent an inmate challenging the state’s policy governing how and when Jehovah’s Witnesses can worship in prison. The policy classified Jehovah’s Witnesses as a subset of Christian Protestants and, on that basis, prohibited separate Jehovah’s Witness meetings – an infringement on religious freedom under the First Amendment. After the court denied the state’s motion for summary judgment, the state ultimately agreed to a consent decree that required changing its policy to allow for separate meetings for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“We’re proud to have helped change an unconstitutional policy restricting religious freedom,” said Durnovich, who served as lead counsel on the case. “With this result, our client and Jehovah’s Witness inmates across the state will have the same right to practice their religion as other faith groups already enjoy.”

The consent decree in the case provides permanent injunctive relief requiring the state to recognize the Jehovah’s Witness faith as a distinct faith group, and to allow Jehovah’s Witness inmates the opportunity to schedule religious services like other recognized faith groups.

Durnovich and Zinkow are both litigators and members of Poyner Spruill’s Government and Constitutional Litigation practice group. Both of them devote substantial time to pro bono service and have been inducted into the North Carolina Supreme Court’s Pro Bono Honor Society.

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