Inmate Religion Law Upheld in Virginia

January 2, 2007

Author: Matt Reed

Source: The Washington Times

Wire Service: AP

RICHMOND -- A federal appeals court has upheld a federal law that protects the rights of prison inmates to practice their religion.

The state of Virginia had challenged the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), contending that Congress had exceeded its authority by tying compliance with the law with federal funding for prisons.

But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument Friday, saying that the law does not force states to change prison policies but merely to abide by federal law.

"Because Virginia voluntarily accepted federal correctional funds, it cannot avoid the substantive requirements of RLUIPA," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, blocks any government from passing a land-use regulation -- such as a zoning law -- that would discriminate against a religious organization. It also prohibits prisons from blocking inmates from worshipping as they please.

Friday's ruling stems from a case brought by Ira Madison, a Hebrew Israelite and a member of the Church of God and Saints of Christ in Suffolk.