Supreme Court upholds inmates’ religious rights

Unanimous decision may have impact beyond prisons
A unanimous Supreme Court has upheld a five-year-old federal law that makes it easier for prison inmates—and others—to assert their religious freedom.

The justices validated on May 31 the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA. The law was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. It was designed to make it harder for government entities to curtail significantly a group’s or individual’s religious rights.

One section of RLUIPA requires states to accommodate religious practices by inmates in their prisons—such as providing a special diet or allowing them to wear a particular kind of religious dress—unless prison officials can show a compelling reason not to grant such requests. If the officials can provide such a justification, they must then also show they have burdened the inmate’s religious exercise in the least restrictive manner possible.


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