From: FARM-USA <farm-usa@...
Date: Wed, 01 Jun 2005 22:49:22 -0400
Prisoners' Religious Rights Law Upheld
Statute Bars Burdens on Observances
By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 1, 2005; A12
The Supreme Court upheld a federal religious freedom law for prisoners
and mental patients yesterday, ruling that Congress has the power to
require that state institutions accommodate the reasonable religious
needs of those under their control.
In a unanimous ruling, the court rejected Ohio's constitutional
challenge to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(RLUIPA), enacted by Congress in 2000. RLUIPA says that "no government
shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person
residing in or confined to an institution" that receives federal funds,
unless the burden is absolutely necessary to meet a "compelling"
Ohio argued that this amounts to unconstitutional official favoritism
for religion, because it creates incentives for inmates in its prisons
to profess a religious belief so that they may receive special food or
other privileges unavailable to other inmates.
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said that Ohio's
interpretation would sweep too broadly, prohibiting even such
congressionally mandated religious accommodations as a law that permits
Jewish members of the military to wear yarmulkes while on duty.
"[W]e find RLUIPA's institutionalized-persons provision compatible with
the [Constitution] because it alleviates exceptional government-created
burdens on private religious exercise," Ginsburg wrote.
But Ginsburg added that the states could challenge the law on a
case-by-case basis. She used terms that suggested the court would be
receptive to a fairly broad range of such challenges when prisons invoke
safety and security concerns to deny religious accommodations.
"We do not read RLUIPA to elevate accommodation of religious observances
over an institution's need to maintain order and safety," she noted.
Yesterday's opinion marks a truce of sorts in a battle between Congress
and the court that has been going on since 1990. In that year, the court
ruled that Oregon could punish Native Americans for smoking peyote, even
though they said it was part of a religious ritual. Religious observance
is no exception to laws that apply generally, Justice Antonin Scalia
wrote for the court.
To undo that decision, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act in 1993, saying that the states must prove they had no
other option before imposing any "substantial burden" on religious
practice. The court struck that law down in 1997, saying that it
exceeded Congress's power to combat state discrimination.
RLUIPA, a more narrow statute that applied only to land-use rules and
institutionalized people, was adopted in 2000.
Yesterday's case, Cutter v. Wilkinson , No. 03-9877, began with a
complaint by inmates that the state was impeding their observance of
rituals associated with Wicca, Satanism, Asatru and the Church of Jesus
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