A convicted murderer in Connecticut who says he is studying to become a Roman Catholic priest has lost his legal fight against state prison officials he accused of violating his constitutional rights by blocking his orders of used religious books and other materials.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Jan Gawlik’s appeal of a Connecticut Appellate Court ruling, which upheld a state judge’s decision that found Gawlik’s rights were not violated and he could have ordered new books.
Gawlik, 56, is serving a 60-year prison sentence for killing and dismembering his 90-year-old father, Jozef Gawlik, in New Britain in 2011. He has said he was possessed by Satan and high on cocaine when he killed his father, but has since dedicated his life to God and wants to become a priest.
Representing himself in the court cases, Gawlik argued that prison officials violated his constitutional rights, including freedom of religion, by blocking his orders of used religious books, prayers cards and other materials. In his application to the Supreme Court to hear his appeal, he described himself as a “self studying future Catholic priest.”
Connecticut prisons have a policy that bans inmates from receiving books that are not in “new condition” and requires them to order books directly from publishers, book clubs and bookstores, in an effort to stop contraband from coming into prisons.
Prison officials testified during the lower court trial that it is easier to smuggle drugs, weapons, secret messages and other contraband into prisons via used books, because they often have worn bindings and otherwise can be exploited to hide things.
“We are gratified by the result of this case in which all the judges who examined the department’s policies on publications determined that they were constitutionally and legally supported,” the state Department of Correction said in a statement. “Used books are vulnerable to modification, hiding contraband, passing messages — all of which present significant safety and security concerns.”
Gawlik, who is detained at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, sought to overturn the used book ban in the court cases.
In his application to the Supreme Court, he said he bought used books that are no longer in print from a publisher that specializes in Catholic academic books that include writings not available in modern books. But prison officials blocked him from receiving the books and other materials he ordered.
Gawlik wrote that he “was denied his constitutional rights of religion, speech, freedom of worship as conscience demands, religious literature ... under federal and state constitutions.”
Connecticut Judge Steven Ecker said in his ruling that was upheld by the state Appellate Court that prison officials did not bar the materials based on religion, but because of the policy against used books.
“The court is convinced that the items would have received identical treatment had their content related to the New York Yankees, the native birds of Indonesia, or any other subject, religious or non-religious,” Ecker said.
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