In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a federal law requiring prisons to accommodate the religious practices and beliefs of inmates. In a case brought by a witch and a Satanist, the Court agreed that inmates in an Ohio state prison had been unconstitutionally denied their First Amendment rights to practice religion, and to access religious literature and ceremonial items.
The law in question, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, was intended, in part, to protect the religious rights of prisoners. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had struck down parts of the law, on grounds that they violated the First Amendment's separation of church and state clause.
In the Supreme Court's unanimous decision upholding the law, Justice Ginsberg disagreed with the lower court, writing: "It [the law in question] confers no privileged status on any particular religious sect, and singles out no bona fide faith for disadvantageous treatment.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act requires prisons receiving federal funding to accommodate prisoners' diverse religious practices and beliefs, unless they could prove that doing so would jeopardize order and safety.
"We do not read [the law] to elevate accommodation of religious observances over an institution's need to maintain order and safety," wrote Justice Ginsburg. "We have no cause to believe that [the law] would not be applied in an appropriately balanced way, without sensitivity to security concerns."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) praised the Supreme Court's action.
"Prison officials often place unjustified burdens on prisoners who wish to practice their religion," said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project in a press release. "This important law allows prisoners to challenge such arbitrary burdens, and we welcome this decision upholding its constitutionality."
The entire decision of the Supreme Court can be found in the case of Cutter v. Wilkinson.