Inmate religious rights upheld by Fourth Circuit

[JURIST] The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) [official website] Friday after inmate Ira Madison sued the Commonwealth of Virginia and various Virginia Department of Corrections officials for a second time claiming he was refused a kosher diet as required by his religion. Madison, who considers himself a Hebrew Israelite [sect website; Wikipedia backgrounder] - a member of an African-American group who profess to be true descedendants of the lost tribe of Judah - filed his lawsuits while serving time at a Virginia state correctional facility for drug possession.

RLUIPA [text] prohibits governments from imposing regulation upon inmates that engenders religious discrimination. Prison officials have argued that the correctional facility's vegetarian, non-pork menu options fulfills Madison's kosher needs. Virginia originally responded to Madison's suits by directly challenging RLUIPA's constitutionality. The Commonwealth claimed that the Act violates the Establishment Clause and Spending and Commerce Clauses [texts], and infringes upon the state's sovereign immunity. In 2003, the Fourth Circuit disagreed with Virginia [opinion, PDF] and held that the state could adhere to RLUIPA's religious accommodations without violating the Establishment Clause.

The court's Friday ruling upheld its 2003 decision and in the face of an alternative state argument that federal funding for prisons was improperly tied to state compliance with RLUIPA affirmed that "RLUIPA is a valid exercise of Congress' spending power and that, because Virginia voluntarily accepted federal correctional funds, it cannot avoid the substantive requirements of [the Act]." The Fourth Circuit further found that since "Congress unambiguously conditioned federal funds on a State’s consent to suit... [Virginia] waived its sovereign immunity for RLUIPA damages claims." AP has more.



 

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