In October 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) that protect the rights of prison inmates and other institutionalized persons to practice their religions. AU and a broad coalition of civil-rights organizations and religious groups had originally played a significant role in the drafting and passage of the law.
In December 2004, joined by other civil-rights groups, AU filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the law. We argued that the statute represents a permissible accommodation of religion because it simply lifts substantial government-imposed burdens, and it does not involve the provision of public funds, impose undue burdens on innocent third parties or prison authorities, or create incentives for persons to modify their religious beliefs or practices.
On May 31, 2005, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision upholding the statute. The Court largely adopted our reasoning, holding that the statute is a permissible accommodation because (a) it alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise; (b) it does not impose undue burdens on non-beneficiaries or prison authorities; and (c) it is religion-neutral.