Prisoners Allowed to View Solar Eclipse

( – Six inmates at a New York state prison will be allowed to view the solar eclipse on April 8. The Department of Corrections agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the six individuals who claimed that the eclipse was a religious event and that prohibition from witnessing it was a violation of their First Amendment religious rights. The news came just days before the upcoming eclipse.

The rest of New York state prisons will be on lockdown throughout the event, which means most of the prisoners will be confined to their jail cells. The men are inmates at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Sullivan County, NY. The crimes for which they are being held were not elaborated by writers at the New York Times.

The men have varying religious backgrounds, including one who identifies as an atheist, but who claimed that eclipses were important to him for religious reasons. He cited the scientific nature of the event as spiritually relevant. He was first granted approval in March to observe the event, and afterward more prisoners wanted the privilege.

Shortly thereafter the department issued a declaration saying that all the prisons would be on lockdown, prompting the men to sue for their right to observe the event. Petitioners argued that the event prompted deep spiritual reflection as well as inspiring awe.

The lockdown was meant to “ensure the safety” of prisoners, visitors, and staff and to maintain the “integrity of our facilities” during the eclipse. The path of totality, where the sun will be completely blocked out by the moon, crosses upstate New York.

The department only authorized six individuals to view the event, suggesting others who wished to do so could have requested permission.

A complete solar eclipse is a rare event, some had concerns about power loss due to the temporary inability of solar panels to function in the dark. Electricity companies prepared in advance to mitigate any potential problems by bringing alternative sources of energy online to cover anticipated production drops during the minutes-long darkness along the path of totality. Only a slim slice of the country was completely covered in darkness.

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