The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that protects the religious rights of inmates.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court in Richmond, Virginia, found that a section of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) does not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

"To hold otherwise and find an Establishment Clause violation would severely undermine the ability of our society to accommodate the most basic rights of conscience and belief in neutral yet constructive ways," wrote Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III. The December 8 decision was unanimous.

Religious liberty advocates were pleased. According to Patrick Korten of The Becket Fund, "Invalidating RLUIPA would have made things more difficult for individual inmates seeking greater opportunity to practice their religion while incarcerated."

As it stands, RLUIPA prevents prison officials from placing a "substantial burden" on religious exercise without a compelling interest, such as ensuring security and safety, according to Korten. The case involved Ira W. Madison, a convict in a prison of the Virginia Department of Corrections. Prison officials had denied his request for kosher meals.

A district court ruled earlier that RLUIPA provided impermissible special protections to prisoners.

Related Elsewhere:

Other Christianity Today articles on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person's Act include:

Judge Will Reconsider Decision on Church Land Use (Aug. 12, 2003)
Federal Judge Rules Parts of Church Land-Use Law Unconstitutional | Groups plan to help Elsinore Christian Center appeal zoning case. (July 11, 2003)
No Religion-Based Zoning | Illinois Vineyard church wins right to worship in its own building. (May 13, 2003)
Churches vs. Homeowners | Legal experts assess last week's appeals court decision that houses of worship may be "incompatible with a place of quiet seclusion." (Oct. 23, 2002)
Feds Intervene in Zoning Case | Elsinore Christian Center seeks to relocate into commercial zone. (Oct. 3 2001)
President Signs Religious-Liberty Bill | Law says government must again prove "compelling interest" to curb free exercise of religion in land use, prisons, and hospitals. (Sept. 26, 2000)

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