By Clark Kauffmann, Iowa Capital Dispatch
A group of convicted sex offenders is suing the state of Iowa, claiming their right to worship Lucifer with a weeklong feast of fried chicken, doughnuts and ice cream is being violated.
Lawsuits filed by prison and jail inmates are commonplace, and many of them allege violations of constitutional rights related to religious practices. But the lawsuit recently filed by a group of sex offenders housed at the state-run Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders is unusual even by the standards of prison litigation.
The six patients — once offenders are committed to the unit, they are considered patients, not inmates — are Dusty Hopkins, Bobby Messier, Jason Cook, Winston Halstead, Jarvis Burse and Cameron Jackson. They belong to what they call the “Luciferian Temple,” which suggests they are Luciferians, a group that traditionally views Satan and Lucifer as different aspects of the same being. They are suing the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs the unit, in U.S. District Court.
They allege DHS officials are infringing on their religious freedom by refusing to let them keep the leftovers from their “Night of Transformation feast,” and by blocking access to written materials dealing with blood rituals, spells, vampirism and nudity.
The plaintiffs’ plans for the most recent feast, a three-hour event staged last Oct. 30 in a library at the unit, are detailed in court records. They involved 24 pieces of Hy-Vee fried chicken, an assortment of Subway sandwiches, two gallons of chocolate ice cream, a pumpkin pie, two dozen doughnuts, a cheesecake, four “big bags” of Halloween candy, an assortment of flavored syrups and several liters of Mountain Dew — all to be paid for by the six offenders. A few of the planned menu items were scrapped before the feast was staged due to insufficient funds.
Court records indicate that when the plaintiffs ordered the food for delivery to the unit, they were informed in writing that they could not take any leftovers back to their individual living units and that any remaining food would be discarded.
The unit’s disciplinary records indicate that when the Night of Transformation feast ended, the participants, carrying buckets of ice cream, approached a female security officer and said they were ready to go back to their living units. When told they couldn’t take the food with them, a few of the plaintiffs sat down and consumed the rest of their ice cream, but two of them ignored the officer’s directive and, according to her written report, they took their buckets of ice cream back to their living units.
Both plaintiffs were later written up for disobeying an order, which triggered a series of internal grievances and complaints. In November, Hopkins, the self-described “high priestess” of the Luciferian Temple, wrote to DHS Director Kelly Garcia.
“The food is blessed and sanctified to the Gods and Godesses [sic], and normally (the feast) would run a week long,” Hopkins wrote. “We have to throw away what is not eaten (and) this is sacrilegious.”
Cory Turner, a DHS division administrator, responded to Hopkins, noting that religious materials containing nudity are not allowed if they are deemed to be counter-therapeutic, adding that leftovers can’t be taken into individual living units “due to health and safety issues.”
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim Turner’s reference to counter-therapeutic materials “is a bunch of bull!!!” They are seeking unspecified damages related to religious persecution. They also are requesting a court-appointed attorney, noting their lack of legal knowledge “outside of commonly known terms cited on TV a lot.”
The state has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.
The unit’s written policy on religious feasts limits food and supplies to no more than $15 per person, to be paid for by the participants, with the unit providing only the plates, cups, utensils and napkins.
Court records indicate Hopkins has a 2009 conviction for third-degree sexual abuse and a 2008 conviction for third-degree sexual abuse. Last year, an Iowa judge denied Hopkins’ request to have their first name legally changed to Nikki, saying it could undermine the purpose of the state’s Sex Offender Registry and “create a public safety concern.”
Jackson has a 2013 conviction for lascivious acts with a child; Messier has a 2003 conviction for third-degree sexual abuse; Halstead has a 1991 conviction for indecent contact with a child; Cook has a 2005 conviction for third-degree sexual abuse; and Burse has two 2013 convictions for third-degree sexual abuse.
The Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders provides secure, in-patient treatment for people criminally convicted of sex crimes. Patients typically have served prison terms and then, in a separate civil proceeding, they have been committed to the unit as sexually violent predators with the potential to reoffend. The unit is located in Cherokee on the campus of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute.