Guest / Limited Access /

In a great victory for religious liberty, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal law that protects prisoners' access to religious materials and programs. In Cutter v. Wilkinson, Justice Ginsburg, writing for the entire Court, found that RLUIPA was constitutional "because it alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise."

The Court overturned a Sixth Circuit decision that held that RLUIPA gave religious prisoners "a preferred status in the prison community" and "has the effect of encouraging prisoners to become religious in order to enjoy greater rights." The Court dismissed this reasoning with a curt statement that, "Were the Court of Appeals's view the correct reading of our decisions, all manner of religious accommodations would fall."

Justice Thomas joined in the Court's opinion, and also issued a concurring opinion setting out a clear defense of Congress's authority to defend religious practice. "History, at least that presented by Ohio, does not show that the Establishment Clause hermetically seals the federal government out of the field of religion." He cited Philip Hamburger's book, Separation of Church and State, "The Clause prohibits Congress from enacting legislation respecting an establishment of religion; it does not prohibit Congress from enacting legislation respecting religion or taking cognizance of religion."

As with many cases that are heard by the high court, the facts in Cutter did not make an attractive case for supporters of religious liberty. The plaintiffs are Ohio prisoners who hold unconventional religious beliefs. Some of them are followers of Asatru, a polytheistic ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Recommended'Not Forgotten': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A Christian
'Not Forgotten': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A Christian
Open Doors says 2014 saw the worst persecution of Christians in the 'modern era'—but not because of violence.
TrendingThe 10 Most Influential Churches of the Last Century
The 10 Most Influential Churches of the Last Century
There is much to learn from some key trends in the last 100 years of church history.
Editor's PickShould Pastors Stop Signing Civil Marriage Certificates?
Should Pastors Stop Signing Civil Marriage Certificates?
First Things says yes. Survey finds 1 in 4 pastors agree.
Comments
Christianity Today
Victory for Religion Behind Bars
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

June 2005

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.