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4th Circuit upholds RLUIPA in siding with Va. inmate

By The Associated Press
01.02.07

RICHMOND, Va. — In a ruling favorable to an inmate who sued after a Virginia prison denied his request for kosher meals, a federal appeals court has upheld a federal law that protects the religious rights of incarcerated people.

The state of Virginia had challenged the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act after inmate Ira Madison complained in a 2001 lawsuit that prison officials were violating the act by denying him a kosher diet.

Virginia argued that Congress had exceeded its authority by tying compliance with the act to federal funding for prisons.

But the appellate judges rejected that argument, saying the law did not force states to change prison policies.

"Because Virginia voluntarily accepted federal correctional funds, it cannot avoid the substantive requirements of RLUIPA," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in the Dec. 29 ruling Madison v. Virginia.

RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, blocks any government from passing a land-use regulation — such as a zoning law — that would discriminate against a religious organization. It also prohibits prisons from blocking prisoners from worshipping as they please.

The Virginia Department of Corrections declined to comment on the appellate court ruling, saying that Madison's lawsuit was still being litigated. A spokesman also declined to say whether Madison would be provided kosher meals.

Madison professes to be a Hebrew Israelite, a denomination of black Americans who regard themselves as the true descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah. He was serving time at Buckingham Correctional for cocaine possession at the time he filed his lawsuit.

Prison officials contend that non-pork, vegetarian prison menus were an adequate alternative to kosher meals. Department officials also question Madison's religious sincerity, the Dec. 29 ruling stated.

Virginia has tried twice to use the Madison case to overturn the law.

Before the most recent challenge, the state in 2003 argued that RLUIPA violated the First Amendment's mandate for separation of church and state. The 4th Circuit disagreed.

Ohio and Georgia have also tried to overturn the law, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed a legal brief in the case in support of the law.

"It seems like the states haven't gotten the message," he said. "Anytime that anyone has tried to challenge RLUIPA, they have ultimately failed."


Previous
Virginia seeks high court ruling on inmates' religious rights
Attorney general's office says justices should resolve split between 4th, 6th Circuits over constitutionality of RLUIPA. 04.10.04

Related

Court throws out Virginia inmate's suit over kosher meals

'If I followed (Mitzi Ann) Hamilton's reasoning, she and every other inmate would decide what meals are served,' says federal judge. 06.12.04

Unanimous Court upholds RLUIPA
Justices side with inmates who sued to practice non-mainstream religions. 05.31.05

1st Circuit: R.I. inmate can sue over preaching ban
Unanimous three-judge panel rejects correction officials' argument that man's sermons presented security threat. 04.09.07

N.H. prison ordered to restore inmate's kosher diet
Federal magistrate sides with Orthodox Jewish prisoner, who argued officials violated First Amendment by revoking religious diet after catching him with non-kosher food. 05.06.07

S.D. high court reinstates lawsuit over kosher prison food
Justices rule inmate can pursue claim that prison officials violated his religious rights by changing way kosher food is prepared. 07.29.08

Religious liberty behind bars: How free should prisoners be?
By Charles C. Haynes Prisons can’t impose substantial burdens on free-exercise rights of prisoners unless the regulation serves a compelling state interest, such as prison safety. 07.25.04

Prisoners' rights

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