Tanksley, James v. Wall, Edward et al
Transmission of Notice of Appeal, Docket Sheet and Judgment to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals re 88 Notice of Appeal. (Attachments: # 1 Order, # 2 Judgment, # 3 Docket sheet) (jef),(ps)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
JAMES A. TANKSLEY,
OPINION & ORDER
JON E. LITSCHER, BRIAN FOSTER, and
WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF
Pro se plaintiff James A. Tanksley is a prisoner at the Waupun Correctional Institution
(WCI), where he is serving a long sentence for sexual assault of a child. He practices the
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which WCI recognizes as a legitimate religious faith.
Practice of the Golden Dawn, like other occult religions, requires the use of tarot cards.
Tanksley would like to acquire a specific tarot deck, the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn.
But WCI officials won’t let Tanksley have the Initiatory Tarot because some of the cards depict
nudity in a realistic, eroticized way. Defendants contend that the Initiatory Tarot is a threat
to the security of the prison and an impediment to Tanksley’s rehabilitation as a sex offender.
WCI allows inmates to have other tarot decks, but Tanksley is not satisfied with those because
they do not have symbolism specific to the Golden Dawn, and even if they did, Tanksley prefers
the Initiatory Tarot version.
Tanksley contends that barring him from having the Initiatory Tarot violates his rights
under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc-1(a), and under Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Defendants are the
Wisconsin Department of Corrections, its secretary Jon Litscher, and WCI warden Brian
Tanksley’s case illustrates a fundamental tension under RLUIPA. On one hand,
RLUIPA accords significant deference to the inmate’s choice of religious exercise, which may
be restricted only to serve a compelling government interest, and then only by the least
restrictive means available. On the other hand, courts defer to the expertise of prison officials
in matters of security and rehabilitation. So, the question here is whether Tanksley’s religious
preference for an erotic tarot deck must yield to the judgment of prison officials that such a
tarot deck is disruptive contraband that should be banned. For reasons explained in this
opinion, I conclude that RLUIPA does not require defendants to allow Tanksley, a convicted
child sex offender, access to the erotic Initiatory Tarot, even if that tarot deck is part of a
religious exercise. If Tanksley’s RLUIPA claim fails, his Free Exercise claim necessarily fails,
too. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, Dkt. 46, is granted.
I draw the following facts from the parties’ summary judgment materials. The facts are
undisputed except where noted.
In 2001, plaintiff James A. Tanksley was convicted of two counts of first-degree sexual
assault of a child and one count of false imprisonment in Langlade County Circuit Court. These
charges arose out of two incidents in 1996 and 1997 in which Tanksley sexually assaulted a
nine-year-old boy and, in one incident, locked the door to prevent the boy from leaving.
Tanksley received two consecutive 40-year sentences for the sexual assaults and a two-year
consecutive sentence for the false imprisonment. He will be required to register as a sex offender
for the rest of his life. The DOC’s psychologist chief, Jonathan Dickey, determined that
Tanksley has an above-average risk of recidivism. Tanksley disputes the risk assessment.
Tanksley says that he lived with a lover for more than two years, which, if true, is a
consideration that would reduce his risk of recidivism to average. Dickey recommended that
Tanksley complete an intensive residential sex offender program for high-risk sex offenders.
Tanksley is on the waitlist for this program and has not yet completed any sex offender
treatment, which is typically provided for those nearing release.
Throughout his incarceration, Tanksley has been a practicing believer in the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn. WCI and the DOC recognize the Golden Dawn as a legitimate
faith, and they have categorized it within the Pagan umbrella religious group. In 2011,
Tanksley submitted a form DOC 2075, “Request for New Religious Practice,” to ask that he
be allowed to acquire at his own expense the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn by Giordano
Berti, a tarot card deck with a companion booklet. He explained in his 2011 request that he is
a member of the Golden Dawn and that the Initiatory Tarot “is the only Tarot deck codified
for the Golden Dawn religion.” Dkt. 50-5, at 1. Chaplain Sam Appau recommended denying
Tanksley’s request because the Initiatory Tarot deck contains images of violence and nudity.
Other WCI and DOC officials concurred and denied Tanksley’s request on the grounds that
the Initiatory Tarot contained inappropriate nude images that would be deemed pornographic
under prison regulations and that another tarot deck had been approved for inmate use. Id. at
Tanksley renewed his request for the Initiatory Tarot in 2013 with another form DOC
2075. This time, Tanksley did not contend that the Initiatory Tarot was the only tarot deck
approved for the Golden Dawn. Rather, he explained that the Initiatory Tarot is “one of the
newest approved Tarot Decks of the Golden Dawn Religion and is the most accurate in both
symbology and imagery.” Dkt. 50-6, at 1. Tanksley explained that the previously approved
tarot deck is Wiccan and “does not contain the correct symbology/symbols/ colors/imagery and
meanings as those used for the Golden Dawn Religion.” Id.
Again the reviewing chaplain recommended denial. The essence of the chaplain’s
decision was that the Initiatory Tarot was not specifically required for the Golden Dawn. As
the chaplain put it:
I am not convinced by his indicated response and justification he
provided to the question how initiatory tarot deck of the golden
dawn is required to practice his chosen religious path. I get the
impression that inmate Tanksley prefers the look and flavor of
this new deck over the existing allowed deck of tarot cards not
because it is a requirement but as a personal preference.
Dkt. 50-6, at 2. The chaplain also cited the logistical difficulties that would arise if the DOC
had to cope with many inmate requests for specific tarot decks from among the many that are
Tanksley’s 2013 request (like his 2011 request) was also reviewed by Kelli Willard
West, an administrative policy advisor in the DOC’s Division of Adult Institutions. As part of
her duties, West was also the chair of the DOC’s Religious Practices Advisory Committee,
which reviews inmate requests for new religious exercise, sets DOC policy on religious practices,
and advises institutions on the proper handling of religious issues. By the time West reviewed
Tanksley’s 2013 request, the DOC had modified the approved religious property list to include
three tarot decks: the previously approved Aquarian Tarot, the Animal Wise Tarot, and the
Rider-Waite Tarot. The Rider-Waite Tarot was deemed to “have roots in the Golden Dawn
tradition according to the Pagan [umbrella religious group] advisors.” Id. at 4. West agreed
with the chaplain’s view that allowing every inmate preference in tarot decks would pose
logistical difficulties. West concurred with the denial of Tanksley’s request.
At some point after Tanksley’s 2013 request was denied, the DOC adopted a more
flexible policy regarding requests for alternative tarot decks. Instead of being routinely denied
based on the approved religious property list, each request is individually determined based on
the inmates’ own justification, available information about that tarot deck, and the advice of
spiritual leaders. Dkt. 50, ¶¶ 39-40. Tanksley has not submitted a request under the new policy.
In connection with this litigation, West has reviewed the Initiatory Tarot deck. She
states that she would maintain her recommendation to deny Tanksley’s request on the grounds
that 13 of the 78 cards include imagery that would be deemed pornographic under DOC
The Initiatory Tarot deck would not likely be considered “pornographic” under the
common conception of the term. But some of the cards depict nude figures, rendered in full
color in an eroticized style typical of some graphic novels. For example, here are two of the
cards that the DOC finds objectionable:
Dkt. 74, at 1, 3.
At least some of the objected-to cards would fall within the definition of “pornography”
used by the DOC. Division of Adult Institutions (DAI) policy 309.00.50 prohibits “inmates
from possessing pornographic materials.” Dkt. 50-1, at 1. Pornography is defined in this policy
somewhat flexibly, through a list of non-exclusive examples. In pertinent parts, the definition
B. Pornography includes, but is not limited to:
2. Any material, other than written material, that shows any of
b. Sadomasochistic abuse, including but not limited to
flagellation, bondage, brutality to or mutilation or physical
torture of a human being.
Any commercially published material that features
pictures/drawings of nudity on a routine or regular basis.
a. Publications shall not be prohibited solely because they
display naked or partially covered buttocks.
b. A publication shall not be prohibited solely because it
contains pictorial nudity that has a medical, educational,
or anthropological purpose.
d. A publication that promotes itself based upon depictions of
nudity in the case of individual one-time issues may be
4. Any material showing nudity of any person who has not
attained the age of 18, whether personal or commercially
published pictures/drawings. Pictures/drawings of an infant or
pre-pubescent child’s chest are not considered breasts.
Id. at 2-3. Nudity means:
The showing of human male or female genitals or pubic area with
less than a fully opaque covering, or the showing of the female
breast with less than a fully opaque covering of the areola or
nipple, or the depiction of covered male genitals in a noticeable
state of erection.
Id. at 2. Similar definitions are provided in the Wisconsin Administrative Code. See Wis.
Admin. DOC § 309.02.
The Initiatory Tarot contains no depictions of sexual activity or any lewd display of
genitalia, the hallmarks of hard-core pornography outside the prison context. But some of the
Initiatory Tarot cards plainly fall within the DIA’s definition of pornography. Card VI is
pornographic because it shows bondage; Card 0 because it shows a nude child, including his
genitals. Eleven cards show nudity, mostly bare female breasts. Whether these eleven cards are
pornographic under DIA policy is arguable, because it is not clear whether the Initiatory Tarot
deck “features” nudity, as required under definition B.3. But the specific definitions are only
illustrative, so the DOC determination that the 13 objected-to cards are pornographic under
prison regulations is a reasonable one.
The court will focus on Tanksley’s RLUIPA claim, because RLUIPA provides greater
protection for religious liberty than the First Amendment itself. See Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct.
853, 860 (2015). Thus, if Tanksley’s RLUIPA claim fails, his free exercise claim under the First
Amendment will necessarily fail, too. Mark v. Gustafson, 482 F. Supp. 2d 1084, 1090 (W.D.
But before turning to the RLUIPA issue, I address Tanksley’s argument in his summary
judgment opposition that the DOC definitions of “pornography” and “nudity” are overbroad
and vague, and therefore the regulations based on these definitions violate his rights under the
First and Fourteenth Amendments. This is actually a new claim for relief, which Tanksley did
not include in his initial or amended complaint. I will not allow Tanksley to proceed on them
now because defendants were not on notice that they had to defend claims based on Tanksley’s
rights to free speech or due process. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)
(purpose of the complaint is to give notice to defendant); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. Tanksley has not
asked to amend his complaint to add these claims, and if he had, I would deny the request
because he brings it too late. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, the court should freely
give leave to amend a complaint when justice so requires, but not when there is “undue delay,
bad faith, or dilatory motive” by the plaintiff or “undue prejudice” to the defendant. Payne v.
Churchich, 161 F.3d 1030, 1036 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182
(1962)). Allowing Tanksley to add new claims now, after defendants’ motion for summary
judgment is fully briefed, would be highly prejudicial to defendants. One last comment on the
topic: a free speech/due process claim would entail consideration of many of the same issues
already at issue here, particularly the DOC’s purpose for, and means of, restricting erotic
material in its prisons. If Tanksley cannot establish his entitlement to such material for religious
purposes under RLUIPA, it is unlikely that he could establish his entitlement to such material
on general free speech grounds.
The essential principle of RLUIPA, as it applies to prisoners, is simple: any substantial
burden on a prisoner’s religious exercise is subject to review akin to strict constitutional
scrutiny. As the pertinent part of the statutory text provides:
(a) General rule
No government shall impose a substantial burden on the
religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an
institution, as defined in section 1997 of this title, even if the
burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the
government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). Another important part of RLUIPA is the broad definition of
The term “religious exercise” includes any exercise of religion,
whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious
Id., § 2000cc-5(7)(A).
Tanksley bears the burden of showing that the DOC’s policies substantially burden his
religious exercise. This means, at the threshold, that Tanksley’s interest in the Initiatory Tarot
must be rooted in a sincere religious belief, rather than a purely secular interest, and that it is
not merely a pose adopted to acquire material that would otherwise be banned. For purposes
of summary judgment at least, defendants here do not dispute the sincerity of Tanksley’s
religious interest in the Initiatory Tarot. Tanksley also bears the burden to show that DOC’s
policies substantially burden his religious exercise. See Koger v. Bryan, 523 F.3d 789, 796 (7th
Cir. 2008). If Tanksley makes this showing, then the burden shifts to defendants to show that
the prohibition of the Initiatory Tarot is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling
governmental interest. Id.; accord Holt, 135 S. Ct. at 863.
To succeed on their motion for summary judgment, defendants must show that there is
no genuine issue of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “A genuine issue of material
fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to
return a verdict for that party.” Brummet v. Sinclair Broad. Grp., Inc., 414 F.3d 686, 692 (7th
Cir. 2005). All reasonable inferences from the facts in the summary judgment record must be
drawn in Tanksley’s favor as the nonmoving party. Baron v. City of Highland Park, 195 F.3d
333, 338 (7th Cir. 1999). If Tanksley fails to establish the existence of an essential element on
which he will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment for defendants is proper. See
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The defendants are also entitled to summary judgment if there is no
genuine dispute that they have established the elements on which they have the burden.
A. Substantial burden on Tanksley’s religious exercise
Defendants contend that the prohibition of the Initiatory Tarot cannot be a substantial
burden on Tanksley’s religious exercise because he has practiced Golden Dawn while
incarcerated for 20 years without it. Thus, according to defendants, the prohibition of the
Initiatory Tarot is merely an incidental burden, not a substantial one.
The concept of “substantial burden” is not expressly defined in the RLUIPA statute.
The Supreme Court said that a substantial burden is one that forces a prisoner to “engage in
conduct that seriously violates [his] religious beliefs.” Holt, 135 S. Ct. at 862 (quoting Burwell
v. Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2775 (2014)). Implicit in the concept of substantial burden,
and in the Supreme Court’s formulation, is the notion that there may be burdens on religious
exercise that are indeed “insubstantial.” But as the Seventh Circuit recognized after Holt, “The
Supreme Court's formulation leaves a lot of uncertainty. How is a court to tell whether a given
restriction ‘seriously’ violates or contradicts religious beliefs?” Schlemm v. Wall, 784 F.3d 362,
364 (7th Cir. 2015).
In this case, defendants’ best argument is developed in their reply brief, Dkt. 78, where
they discuss the book that Tanksley cites as evidence of Golden Dawn doctrine: An Introduction
to the Golden Dawn Tarot, by Robert Wang, published in 1978. (The book itself is Dkt. 69,
although the entire book is not available on the electronic docket.) Tanksley cited the Wang
book in his 2011 Request for New Religious Practice to support his claim that the Initiatory
Tarot was the only deck suitable for the Golden Dawn. It is true that Wang wrote that only
one deck “includes all of the correct attributions of a secret oral tradition” and that other decks
feature “intentional obfuscation.” Id. at 11, 12. But Wang was talking about a Golden Dawn
Tarot deck that was available in 1978, a deck reproduced in its entirety in the book. Dkt. 69,
at 52-61. The Initiatory Tarot deck was not published until 2008; it is therefore indisputably
not the deck that Wang endorses. Defendants argue, rightly, that based on the Wang book, the
2008 Initiatory Tarot cannot be required for the proper practice of the Golden Dawn. This
argument mirrors the opinion of the chaplain who reviewed Tanksley’s 2013 request and
concluded that the Initiatory Tarot was not required by the Golden Dawn religion. Dkt. 50-6,
This would have been a very good argument under pre-Holt precedent, such as Eagle
Cove Camp & Conference Center, Inc. v. Woodboro, 734 F.3d 673, 680 (7th Cir. 2013). Under that
line of precedent, a substantial burden was “‘one that necessarily bears direct, primary, and
fundamental responsibility for rendering religious exercise . . . effectively impracticable.” Id. at
680 (quoting Civil Liberties for Urban Believers v. City of Chicago, 342 F.3d 752, 761 (2003)). It
seems reasonable for a prison official to ask whether a proposed religious exercise is a practice
important to the inmate’s professed religion or merely the inmate’s preferred style of
observance. Before Holt, in many courts this was a valid consideration in the substantial burden
analysis. But this conception of “substantial” did not survive Holt, as the Seventh Circuit made
clear in Schlemm. 784 F.3d at 364.
And such a conception of the substantial-burden analysis is difficult to square with the
statutory text. By its textual terms, RLUIPA protects “religious exercise,” not the exercise of
the inmate’s particular religion. RLUIPA defines “religious exercise” as “any exercise of religion,
whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000cc-5(7)(B) (emphasis added). Thus, under RLUIPA, the question is whether the specific
proposed religious exercise is substantially burdened, not whether the religious exercise is one
that could be prohibited without making it too difficult to practice that religion. 1 Holt reasoned
Still, even after Holt, I find two circuit court decisions that have considered as part of the
substantial burden analysis whether the contested religious exercise is required by the inmate’s
religion. See United States v. Barnes, 677 F. App’x 271, 277 (6th Cir. 2017) (“While . . . it is not
the place of the court to decide the ‘centrality of . . . beliefs to canonical texts,’ that does not
prevent this court from determining whether a particular practice is required by a religion as
from this definition to conclude that it does not matter whether the inmate has other means
of practicing his religion, whether the inmate’s religion actually compels the proposed practice,
or whether the proposed practice is in the main stream of the religion. 135 S. Ct. at 862-63.
Under Holt, RLUIPA protects every religious preference, no matter how idiosyncratic or how
minor to the inmate’s professed religion.
But still the question remains: what constitutes a substantial burden? If a prison official
cannot at all consider the doctrine of the inmate’s religion, even as the inmate describes it, then
the only question is the nature of the prison’s restriction of the inmate’s religious exercise. Any
outright prohibition of a requested religious practice would be a substantial burden.
Restrictions on the time, place, and manner of the exercise may or may not impose a substantial
burden. This is the approach taken in a well-reasoned post-Holt opinion of the Eleventh Circuit.
“[C]ourts must accept a religious adherent’s assertion that his religious beliefs require him to
take or abstain from taking a specified action.” Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Sec’y of
U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 818 F.3d 1122, 1144 (11th Cir. 2016). Instead, the
question is “what the challenged law actually requires of the plaintiff.” Id. The government
imposes a substantial burden on a religious exercise when it (1) compels the plaintiff to forego
his religious exercise; (2) prohibits the plaintiff from performing his religious exercise; or (3)
presents the plaintiff with a “‘choice’ of incurring a ‘serious’ penalty or ‘engag[ing] in conduct
that seriously violates [his] religious beliefs.’” Id. (quoting Holt, 135 S. Ct. at 862) (alterations
part of the substantial-burden analysis . . . .” (quoting Haight v. Thompson, 763 F.3d 554, 567
(6th Cir. 2014))); Oklevueha Native Am. Church of Hawaii, Inc. v. Lynch, 828 F.3d 1012, 101617 (9th Cir. 2016) (finding inadequate evidence to support a finding of a substantial burden
in a RFRA claim when the plaintiffs stated “in no uncertain terms” that the exercise at issue—
possessing marijuana—was only a substitute for their religion’s primary “sacrament,” peyote).
in original). Just to be clear about where this leaves the substantial burden analysis: any
prohibition of requested religious property will constitute a substantial burden on a religious
exercise, thus placing the burden on the prison to justify that prohibition. I am not completely
confident that Congress or the Supreme Court intended to go quite this far, but this is the
destination to which Holt directs us.
I conclude that there is no genuine dispute—under post-Holt precedent—that
defendants have substantially burdened Tanksley’s religious exercise, even though his preferred
tarot deck is not required by the Golden Dawn religion.
B. Least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest
So the burden falls to defendants to demonstrate that prohibiting Tanksley from having
the Initiatory Tarot is the least restrictive means of furthering compelling governmental
interests. Defendants cite institutional security and Tanksley’s rehabilitation as compelling
interests. 2 Security is a compelling interest. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 725, n.1 (2005).
Rehabilitation is a “valid penological objective” within the First Amendment context, O’Lone v.
Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987), and it has been recognized by district courts as a
compelling governmental interest under RLUIPA. See Levi v. William, 07-cv-3228, 2007 WL
2893647, at *1 (C.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2007); Schnitzler v. Reisch, 06-cv-4064, 2008 WL 895843,
at *1 (D.S.D. Mar. 31, 2008).
But it is not enough for defendants to invoke security and rehabilitation in general
terms. They bear the burden to show that compelling interests are served by the application of
Defendants also cite two other potentially compelling interests: “reducing recidivism [and]
crime prevention.” Dkt. 78, at 5. But they made no separate arguments in support of these
interests, and they are closely related to Tanksley’s rehabilitation.
the anti-pornography prison regulations specifically to Tanksley, the particular inmate whose
religious exercise is substantially burdened. Holt, 135 S. Ct. at 863 (citing Hobby Lobby, 134 S.
Ct. at 2779). Defendants must also show that denying Tanksley an exception to the antipornography regulations is the least restrictive means of furthering the prison’s compelling
In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court described the least-restrictive-means test as an
“exceptionally demanding” standard that requires the government to “sho[w] that it lacks other
means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of
religion by the objecting part[y].” Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. at 2780. But in Holt, the Supreme
Court also recognized the long-standing tradition of judicial deference to prison administrators’
expertise. Holt, at 864. Long ago, in considering the First Amendment rights of pretrial
detainees, the Court recognized that prison order and discipline are matters “peculiarly within
the province and professional expertise of corrections officials, and, in the absence of
substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response
to these considerations, courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such
matters.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 548 (1979) (quoting Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817,
Holt recognized these two competing principles, but the Court’s opinion provides little
guidance in how to harmonize them. As the Court put it:
Prison officials are experts in running prisons and evaluating the
likely effects of altering prison rules, and courts should respect
that expertise. But that respect does not justify the abdication of
the responsibility, conferred by Congress, to apply RLUIPA's
rigorous standard. And without a degree of deference that is
tantamount to unquestioning acceptance, it is hard to swallow the
argument that denying petitioner a ½–inch beard actually
furthers the Department's interest in rooting out contraband.
Holt, 135 S. Ct. at 864. The Court concluded that the justifications for prohibiting Holt from
wearing a half-inch beard were so flimsy that prison officials were entitled to essentially no
deference at all. Holt simply did not present a difficult question of how much deference is due
prison officials’ decisions. So I am left with this: defendants’ decisions are entitled to respect
but not unquestioning deference. With this general perspective in mind, I turn to defendants’
justifications for prohibiting Tanksley from having the Initiatory Tarot.
I begin with the security concern. Defendants contend that if allowed, the Initiatory
Tarot deck would be a unique item at WCI, particularly because it contains depictions of
nudity. According to the declaration of the WCI security director, unique items “put the staff
and inmates at risk . . . because inmates tend to trade them and misuse them . . . lead[ing] to
theft, bartering, strong-arming, inmate exploitation, violence, and fights.” Dkt. 52, ¶¶ 9-10. I
conclude that this is a reasonable concern: because pornography is generally banned in
Wisconsin prisons, the erotic illustrations in the Initiatory Tarot would make it particularly
valuable, even among prisoners who had no religious interest in it. The potential for disruption
and violence is a legitimate concern, and it is appropriate for the court to defer to prison
officials on their prediction of whether the Initiatory Tarot poses that risk.
I am not persuaded by Tanksley’s argument to the contrary. Tanksley contends that
another Wisconsin inmate was allowed the Enochian Skrying Tarot of the Golden Dawn, which
also included nudity, but it posed no security issues. This is the tarot deck at issue in Meyers v.
Burdick, in which the Eastern District of Wisconsin found “genuine issues of material fact as to
whether an outright ban on [the Enochian Skrying Tarot] is the least restrictive means of
furthering the governmental interests in prison security and rehabilitation.” No. 10-cv-1126,
2012 WL 4357428, at *6 (E.D. Wis. Sept. 24, 2012). But the depictions of nudity in the
Enochian Skrying Tarot are simply not as explicit and erotic as those in the Initiatory Tarot.
Compare, for example, these two cards with similar subject matter:
The defendants have made a reasonable determination that the Initiatory Tarot
contains images that are pornographic under prison regulations, and that introducing those
images would pose a risk to the security and order of WCI, which is otherwise pornographyfree. Removing the 13 offending images is not a viable option, because, as Tanksley agrees, an
incomplete tarot deck does not satisfy Tanksley’s religious needs. I conclude that defendants
have shown that the prohibition of the Initiatory Tarot is the least restrictive means of
furthering the institution’s compelling interest in security.
I turn now to defendants’ concern for Tanksley’s rehabilitation. Defendants rely on the
declaration of Jonathan Dickey, a licensed psychologist and the DOC’s psychology chief, who
states that viewing images of nude adults and children would “reinforce . . . deviant sexual
behaviors” and therefore be detrimental to Tanksley’s rehabilitation. Dkt. 51, ¶ 22. Defendants
do not spend much effort to buttress Dickey’s highly conclusory opinions with data or other
evidence. Ultimately, defendants’ reason is founded on what they think is common sense. Dkt.
78, at 6. But as Judge Posner pointed out in Payton v. Cannon, 806 F.3d 1109, 1110-11 (7th
Cir. 2015), the view that pornography is detrimental to rehabilitation and good order in prisons
is an article of faith among prison administrators, but it is not consistently supported by good
science. The Dickey declaration might be vulnerable to a robust challenge, but Tanksley has
adduced no evidence to rebut Dickey’s anodyne opinion that sex offenders should be kept away
Tanksley argues that his rehabilitation is not defendants’ real concern, because he has
not yet received any sex offender treatment. But such treatment is typically provided as the
inmate approaches his release, which for Tanksley is still far off. The nature and timing of sex
offender treatment is a matter on which the court will appropriately defer to prison officials.
Tanksley also contends that defendants have overstated his risk of reoffending, because they
failed to recognize that he had lived with a partner for an extended period. But even if his risk
of reoffending is, by one measure, merely average, his rehabilitation is still a compelling interest,
even if his release is years away. See Dkt. 80 (Dickey supplemental declaration addressing his
Tanksley’s main argument is that Wisconsin prisons already allow images of nudity, in
approved tarot decks and other materials. He contends that the images in art, medical, and
religious books in the prison library are more explicit than those in the Initiatory Tarot. He
supplies examples in Dkt. 65-4 and Dkt. 65-5. Tanksley contends that these depictions of
nudity are not pornographic under prison regulations because they have medical, educational,
or anthropological purpose. See DAI Policy 309.00.50 B.3.b. And, Tanksley argues, the same
regulation should exempt the 13 objected-to images in the Initiatory Tarot. Tanksley is correct
that there are depictions of nudity accessible within WCI. But none of these materials are as
explicitly erotic as those in the Initiatory Tarot. And the Initiatory Tarot includes images of
bondage and nude children, which squarely fall within the definition of pornography used by
Tanskley also points to the nudity in the now-approved Rider-Waite tarot deck. But
the depictions of nudity in the Rider-Waite tarot deck are simple line drawings that are not as
explicitly erotic as those in the Initiatory Tarot. For example:
I also note that the Golden Dawn tarot deck endorsed by Wang also depicts nudity in a
stylized, non-erotic way that is poles apart from the Initiatory Tarot. The point is best made
by comparing matching cards from those two decks:
Tanksley’s argument that defendants already allow depictions of nudity falls flat because the
objected-to images in the Initiatory Tarot have a level of erotic realism that is simply not
present in other tarot decks that the DOC has already approved, or in the tarot deck that Wang
endorsed as the one appropriate for adherents of the Golden Dawn.
If I accord a measure of respect to defendants’ conclusion that pornography is countertherapeutic for sex offenders, defendants have shown that prohibiting Tanksley from possessing
the Initiatory Tarot is the least restrictive means of furthering Tanksley’s rehabilitative needs
in this regard. They have not barred him from possessing a tarot deck, or even from possessing
a tarot deck that is specific to the Golden Dawn. They have, instead, prohibited him from
possessing a tarot deck that includes a realistic full-frontal view of a nude boy about the same
age as the child he assaulted. I see no reason to question the opinion of the DOC’s chief
psychologist that allowing Tanksley to have this tarot deck, and particularly this image, would
be detrimental to his rehabilitation.
Because defendants have shown that their prohibition of the Initiatory Tarot deck is
the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s compelling interests in security and
Tanksley’s rehabilitation, I will grant defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Tanksley’s
RLUIPA claim. And for reasons given above, I will also grant defendants’ motion for summary
judgment on Tanksley’s free exercise claim.
IT IS ORDERED that:
1. Defendants Jon E. Litscher, Brian Foster, and Wisconsin Department of
Corrections’ motion for summary judgment, Dkt. 46, is GRANTED.
2. The clerk of court is directed to enter judgment for defendants and close this case.
Entered August 15, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
JAMES D. PETERSON
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