ACLU of Virginia Defends Federal Law Guaranteeing Religious Rights of Prisoners

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
June 12, 2006 12:00 am

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RICHMOND, VA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals defending the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

Passed by Congress in 2000, RLUIPA prohibits state prisons and other institutions that receive federal funds from interfering with the right of inmates to practice their religion, unless the institution can cite a security or similarly important reason for the prohibition.

“RLUIPA’s enactment is a recognition that prison officials often fail to honor prisoners’ basic religious rights,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg. “It is disturbing to see Virginia once again trying to evade its obligation under federal law to accommodate inmates’ religion.”

This is the second time the Fourth Circuit will consider the constitutionality of RLUIPA. In 2003, the appeals court rejected Virginia’s argument that RLUIPA violated the First Amendment’s mandate for the separation of church and state.

The case, Madison v. Riter, was returned to the lower court, where the Virginia Department of Corrections recently argued that Congress overreached its powers when it enacted the statute. The state argues RLUIPA unconstitutionally forces states to alter their prison policies by tying federal funding to compliance with the federal law.

“If Virginia wants to use federal funds to operate its prisons, it has to play by federal rules — and that includes accommodating inmates’ religious practices,” said Glenberg.

This case began nearly five years ago when Ira Madison, an inmate at Buckingham Correctional Center who is a member of the 100-year-old Church of God and Saints of Christ, filed a RLUIPA lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Roanoke to compel prison officials to provide him with a meal consistent with his religious beliefs. The meal, called the Common Fare Diet, is typically made available to Islamic and Jewish inmates.

A copy of the ACLU of Virginia’s brief is online at:

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