A five-year-old federal statute focusing on the religious freedom of prisoners is constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The Court unanimously held that the section of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) dealing with prisoners does not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The statute bars government from limiting the religious liberty of prisoners in federally funded institutions without a compelling reason.
"RLUIPA protects institutionalized persons who are unable freely to attend to their religious needs and are therefore dependent on the government's permission and accommodation for exercise of their religion," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Court.
The case reached the Supreme Court after members of Satanist, Wicca, and other non-mainstream religions sued Ohio's corrections department, claiming its officials denied them opportunities to gather for worship or use particular religious ceremonial items.
In overturning an appellate ruling, the justices took their latest action in the continuing round of court decisions about the intersection of church and state that deal with the clauses of the First Amendment addressing establishment and free exercise of religion.
"In accord with the majority of Courts of Appeals that have ruled on the question we hold that [section] 3 of RLUIPA fits within the corridor between the Religion Clauses," wrote Ginsburg. "On its face, the act qualifies as a permissible legislative accommodation of religion that is not barred by the Establishment Clause."
Ohio officials had argued that the law inappropriately forces prison administrators to balance issues of faith and security, but the justices rejected that argument. ...1
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