New York inmates sue to watch solar eclipse after state enacts prison lock downs

New York inmates have filed a lawsuit against the state corrections department regarding the decision to implement lockdowns in prisons during the total solar eclipse on April 8, the Associated Press reported. 

Filed on Friday in federal court in upstate New York, the lawsuit contends that the April 8 lockdown infringes upon inmates' constitutional rights to freely exercise their religious beliefs, as it hinders their participation in a significant religious event. 

The plaintiffs, comprising six men of diverse religious affiliations, are currently incarcerated at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne. Among them are a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria, and an atheist.

"A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many," the complaint reads, highlighting how Bible passages depict an eclipse-like occurrence during Jesus' crucifixion, and sacred Islamic texts describe a similar event during the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son.

The celestial event, which was last visible in the U.S. in 2017 and won’t be seen in the country again until 2044, "warrant gathering, celebration, worship, and prayer," the complaint reads.

A detailed account presented in the lawsuit revealed that one of the plaintiffs, an atheist among the named individuals, had been granted special permission last month to observe the eclipse utilizing state-provided glasses. However, this allowance was given before the institution-wide lockdown being implemented.

Subsequently, four of the remaining plaintiffs made similar requests, only to be denied by officials who asserted that the solar eclipse was not recognized as a holy day within their respective religious doctrines, as outlined in the lawsuit. The sixth inmate purportedly never received a response.

Thomas Mailey, acting as the corrections department spokesperson, refrained from commenting on the ongoing litigation. However, he assured us that all requests for religious accommodation, including those pertaining to eclipse viewing, are duly considered and presently under review.

In a memo dated March 11, issued by Daniel Martuscello III, the acting commissioner of the department, it was announced that all state correctional facilities would operate on a modified holiday schedule on the upcoming Monday. 

This means that inmates would remain confined to their housing units, barring emergencies, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., typically designated for outdoor activities within the prison premises, as detailed in the lawsuit.

Furthermore, visitation would be suspended at nearly two dozen prisons located within the path of totality for the day, with visitation hours at other correctional facilities concluding at 2 p.m.

Martuscello also outlined plans to distribute solar eclipse safety glasses to both staff and inmates at prisons within the path of totality. As stated in the lawsuit, this would enable them to safely observe the celestial event from their assigned workstations or residential quarters.

Total solar eclipse path

The April 2024 solar eclipse will be visible, at least in part, to nearly everyone in the U.S. But the path of totality – where the moon will completely block the sun – is a 115-mile-wide region that stretches from southern Texas up through Ohio, then over to northern Maine.

Large cities in the path of totality include:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Carbondale, Illinois
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Plattsburgh, New York
  • Presque Isle, Maine

The farther you are from that path, less and less of the sun will appear to be blocked.

What time is the solar eclipse?

Southern Texas will see the peak of totality first, around 1:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Then Dallas at 1:42 p.m., with the time getting later and later as the moon’s shadow moves north. Indianapolis will see the peak around 3:05 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time; Cleveland at 3:15 p.m., and northern Maine around 3:30 p.m.

However, it will take several hours for the moon to move across the sun, so the actual eclipse event will start just over an hour before the peak of totality, with more and more of the sun slowly being blocked.

How long is the solar eclipse?

Again, that depends on where you are. Those closest to the center of the path will see total darkness for about four minutes at the peak of totality.

But because the moon moves slowly across the sun’s path, the entire eclipse event – from when the moon first clips the sun until the time it clears – will last from 90 minutes to over two hours for those in the path of totality.

Where do I look for the solar eclipse?

The easiest way to know may be to step outside in the days leading up to the eclipse and see where the sun is during the afternoon.

MORE: How to get the best view of the solar eclipse

Early afternoon on April 8, the sun will be pretty high in the sky. As always, though, the further north you are, the lower in the sky the sun will appear.

For example, in Austin, the sun will be at 67 degrees up from the horizon at the peak of totality. Remember, 90 degrees is straight up, so 67 degrees is just over two-thirds up into the sky from the horizon.

In Cleveland, meanwhile, the sun will be slightly lower, at only 49 degrees – just over halfway up in the sky.

When is the next total solar eclipse?

After 2024, NASA says, the next total solar eclipse visible from any point in the contiguous United States will occur in 2044. Totality will only be visible from North Dakota and Montana.

The next total solar eclipse that will travel across the lower 48 states from coast to coast is in 2045. ​

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.