Religious Rights of Inmates
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Are State Prisons Required To Make Accommodations for an Inmate's Religion?
The 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) states that prison officials cannot substantially impose on an inmate's religious exercise, unless there is a health, safety, or other significant concern. The purpose of RLUIPA is to protect the religious liberties of all incarcerated people.
What Are My Religious Rights?
Religious choice is an essential right to which all Americans are entitled. Although you are subject to certain restrictions, you still hold certain religious privileges, such as the rights to:
- Practice your religion; and
- Access appropriate religious texts.
However, an inmate's ability to freely practice religion can be limited in some cases, and many disputes have arisen concerning the rights to:
- A religious diet;
- Certain grooming habits;
- Attend worship services;
- Wear religious jewelry; and
- Have access to a chaplain before execution.
What If I Practice A Non-Mainstream Religion?
In a May 2005 case brought by state inmates adhering to unconventional religions, such as Satanism, Wicca, Asatru and the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, the Supreme Court ruled for the inmates, giving them broad freedom to practice non-mainstream religions. This decision focused on the validity of RLUIPA and emphasized the separation of church and state.
What Are The Prison's Reasons for Denying an Inmate's Religious Practice?
When the issue of religious autonomy arises, the primary concern of prison officials is safety. Officials hold a great deal of responsibility and therefore, can refuse certain religious requests if they are potentially hazardous. For example, if you are a member of the Sikh religion and you would like to wear a Kirpan (a small ceremonial sword) to demonstrate your faith, it is extremely unlikely that your request will be granted. Such regulations are not intended to create barriers to religious practice and instead are meant to maintain institutional order.
Do I Need A Lawyer?
Individuals, including inmates, may bring cases in federal or state court to enforce RLUIPA. If you have been discriminated against based on your religion, an attorney familiar with constitutional law will be able to inform you of your religious rights and to help you assess your personal situation.
Consult a Lawyer - Present Your Case Now!
Last Modified: 12-16-2011 04:18 PM PST
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