Commentary on RLUIPA and Religious Freedom by Charles Haynes

June 12, 2005

Source: First Amendment Center Press Release

On June 12, 2005 a First Amendment Center Press Release reported, "for all nine justices of the current U.S. Supreme Court to agree on anything is rare enough. But when the topic is religion, a unanimous decision borders on the miraculous. Well, prepare to say 'amen.' On May 31, the Court ruled 9-0 that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Although the case, Cutter v. Wilkinson, involves religious freedom claims made by prison inmates in Ohio, the decision by the Supreme Court addresses a much broader question: Do legislatures unconstitutionally favor religion when they pass laws like RLUIPA that seek to accommodate religious practice? The answer to that question affects thousands of laws protecting religion and millions of Americans of every faith... Although the difference between permissible accommodation and establishment of religion is sometimes murky in Court decisions, the justices have drawn some general lines. It’s clear from past cases that legislative accommodations may not promote religion or require government funding of religion. And all religions must be treated equally. But if the aim is to relieve religious people or organizations from substantial burdens imposed by government laws or regulations, then the accommodation is probably constitutional."