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Unanimous Court upholds RLUIPA

By The Associated Press
05.31.05

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of a federal law requiring state prisons to accommodate inmate religions.

Justices unanimously sided with Ohio inmates, including a witch and a Satanist, who had claimed they were denied access to religious literature, ceremonial items and time to worship.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which was intended to protect the rights of prisoners, is not an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

"It confers no privileged status on any particular religious sect, and singles out no bona fide faith for disadvantageous treatment," Ginsburg wrote in Cutter v. Wilkinson, 03-9877.

The law requires states that receive federal money to accommodate prisoners' religious beliefs unless wardens can show that the accommodation would be disruptive.

Opponents of the law had argued that inmate requests for particular diets, special haircuts or religious symbols could make it harder to manage prisons.

"We do not read (the law) to elevate accommodation of religious observances over an institution's need to maintain order and safety," wrote Ginsburg. "We have no cause to believe that (the law) would not be applied in an appropriately balanced way, without sensitivity to security concerns."

Justices left open the door for a future challenge, on grounds that RLUIPA as applied overburdens prisons.

Today's decision overturns a ruling by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had struck down part of the law on grounds it violated the separation of church and state.


Previous
Justices hear case on protecting inmates' religious freedom
Court to examine federal law allowing prisoners to practice their religions unless government can show compelling reason not to. 03.21.05

Related

Quick look at Cutter v. Wilkinson

Supreme Court unanimously upholds RLUIPA as permissible accommodation of religion that isn't barred by establishment clause. 05.31.05

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4th Circuit upholds RLUIPA in siding with Va. inmate
State had challenged federal law after Ira Madison complained in 2001 lawsuit that prison officials were violating the act by denying kosher meals. 01.02.07

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Odd alliance defends RLUIPA before high court
By Tony Mauro Justices mete out tough questions for backers of law guaranteeing prisoners' religious rights. 03.22.05

Court: Congress strikes right religious-protection balance
By Tony Mauro Justices find RLUIPA properly navigates between sometimes conflicting demands of the religion clauses. 06.01.05

Does accommodating religious practice violate First Amendment?
By Charles C. Haynes Case involving prisoners' religious practices is crucial to protection of everyone's religious rights. 10.31.04

The high court and the incredible shrinking free-exercise clause
By Charles C. Haynes If justices uphold 6th Circuit and overturn RLUIPA, outcome could be most devastating blow yet to religious liberty in America. 03.20.05

With little fanfare, religious freedom wins big at Supreme Court
By Charles C. Haynes Ruling in case involving prisoners bolsters protections for everyone's religious liberties. 06.12.05

2004-05 Supreme Court case tracker

RLUIPA, religious buildings & zoning

Prisoners' Rights

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