Cutter v. Wilkinson

Decision Date31 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-9877.,03-9877.
Citation544 U.S. 709
PartiesCUTTER ET AL. v. WILKINSON, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION AND CORRECTION, et al.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Section 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA or Act), 42 U. S. C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2), provides in part: "No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution," unless the burden furthers "a compelling governmental interest," and does so by "the least restrictive means." Petitioners, current and former inmates of Ohio state institutions, allege, inter alia, that respondent prison officials violated § 3 by failing to accommodate petitioners' exercise of their "nonmainstream" religions in a variety of ways. Respondents moved to dismiss that claim, arguing, among other things, that § 3, on its face, improperly advances religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Rejecting that argument, the District Court stated that RLUIPA permits safety and security—undisputedly compelling state interests—to outweigh an inmate's claim to a religious accommodation. On the thin record before it, the court could not find that enforcement of RLUIPA, inevitably, would compromise prison security. Reversing on interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that § 3 impermissibly advances religion by giving greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights, and suggested that affording religious prisoners superior rights might encourage prisoners to become religious.

Held: Section 3 of RLUIPA, on its face, qualifies as a permissible accommodation that is not barred by the Establishment Clause. Pp. 719-726.

(a) Foremost, § 3 is compatible with the Establishment Clause because it alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise. See, e. g., Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687, 705. Furthermore, the Act on its face does not founder on shoals the Court's prior decisions have identified: Properly applying RLUIPA, courts must take adequate account of the burdens a requested accommodation may impose on nonbeneficiaries, see Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U. S. 703; and they must be satisfied that the Act's prescriptions are and will be administered neutrally among different faiths, see Kiryas Joel, 512 U. S. 687. "[T]he `exercise of religion' often involves not only belief and profession but the performance of ... physical acts [such as] assembling with others for a worship service [or] participating in sacramental use of bread and wine...." Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872, 877. Section 3 covers state-run institutions— mental hospitals, prisons, and the like—in which the government exerts a degree of control unparalleled in civilian society and severely disabling to private religious exercise. 42 U. S. C. § 2000cc-1(a); § 1997. RLUIPA thus protects institutionalized persons who are unable freely to attend to their religious needs and are therefore dependent on the government's permission and accommodation for exercise of their religion. But the Act does not elevate accommodation of religious observances over an institution's need to maintain order and safety. An accommodation must be measured so that it does not override other significant interests. See Caldor, 472 U. S., at 709-710. There is no reason to believe that RLUIPA would not be applied in an appropriately balanced way, with particular sensitivity to security concerns. While the Act adopts a "compelling interest" standard, § 2000cc-1(a), "[c]ontext matters" in the application of that standard, see Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306, 327. Lawmakers supporting RLUIPA were mindful of the urgency of discipline, order, safety, and security in penal institutions and anticipated that courts would apply the Act's standard with due deference to prison administrators' experience and expertise. Finally, RLUIPA does not differentiate among bona fide faiths. It confers no privileged status on any particular religious sect. Cf. Kiryas Joel, 512 U. S., at 706. Pp. 719-724.

(b) The Sixth Circuit misread this Court's precedents to require invalidation of RLUIPA as impermissibly advancing religion by giving greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights. Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327, counsels otherwise. There, in upholding against an Establishment Clause challenge a provision exempting religious organizations from the prohibition against religion-based employment discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Court held that religious accommodations need not "come packaged with benefits to secular entities." Id., at 338. Were the Court of Appeals' view correct, all manner of religious accommodations would fall. For example, Ohio could not, as it now does, accommodate traditionally recognized religions by providing chaplains and allowing worship services. In upholding § 3, the Court emphasizes that respondents have raised a facial challenge and have not contended that applying RLUIPA would produce unconstitutional results in any specific case. There is no reason to anticipate that abusive prisoner litigation will overburden state and local institutions. However, should inmate requests for religious accommodations become excessive, impose unjustified burdens on other institutionalized persons, or jeopardize an institution's effective functioning, the facility would be free to resist the imposition. In that event, adjudication in as-applied challenges would be in order. Pp. 724-726.

349 F. 3d 257, reversed and remanded.

GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 726.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

David Goldberger argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Marc D. Stern and Benson A. Wolman.

Acting Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for the United States as respondent under this Court's Rule 12.6 in support of petitioners. With him on the briefs were Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Patricia A. Millett, Mark B. Stern, and Michael S. Raab.

Douglas R. Cole, State Solicitor of Ohio, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Jim Petro, Attorney General, Stephen P. Carney, Senior Deputy Solicitor, and Todd R. Marti and Franklin E. Crawford, Assistant Solicitors.*

JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA or Act), 114 Stat. 804, 42 U. S. C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2), provides in part: "No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution," unless the burden furthers "a compelling governmental interest," and does so by "the least restrictive means." Plaintiffs below, petitioners here, are current and former inmates of institutions operated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and assert that they are adherents of "nonmainstream" religions: the Satanist, Wicca, and Asatru religions, and the Church of Jesus Christ Christian.1 They complain that Ohio prison officials (respondents here), in violation of RLUIPA, have failed to accommodate their religious exercise "in a variety of different ways, including retaliating and discriminating against them for exercising their nontraditional faiths, denying them access to religious literature, denying them the same opportunities for group worship that are granted to adherents of mainstream religions, forbidding them to adhere to the dress and appearance mandates of their religions, withholding religious ceremonial items that are substantially identical to those that the adherents of mainstream religions are permitted, and failing to provide a chaplain trained in their faith." Brief for United States 5.

For purposes of this litigation at its current stage, respondents have stipulated that petitioners are members of bona fide religions and that they are sincere in their beliefs. Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, 221 F. Supp. 2d 827, 833 (SD Ohio 2002).

In response to petitioners' complaints, respondent prison officials have mounted a facial challenge to the institutionalized-persons provision of RLUIPA; respondents contend, inter alia, that the Act improperly advances religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The District Court denied respondents' motion to dismiss petitioners' complaints, but the Court of Appeals reversed that determination. The appeals court held, as the prison officials urged, that the portion of RLUIPA applicable to institutionalized persons, 42 U. S. C. § 2000cc-1, violates the Establishment Clause. We reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment.

"This Court has long recognized that the government may . . . accommodate religious practices . . . without violating the Establishment Clause." Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., 480 U. S. 136, 144-145 (1987). Just last Term, in Locke v. Davey, 540 U. S. 712 (2004), the Court reaffirmed that "there is room for play in the joints between" the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, allowing the government to accommodate religion beyond free exercise requirements, without offense to the Establishment Clause. Id., at 718 (quoting Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664, 669 (1970)). "At some point, accommodation may devolve into `an unlawful fostering of religion.'" Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327, 334-335 (1987) (quoting Hobbie, 480 U. S., at 145). But § 3 of RLUIPA, we hold, does not, on its face, exceed the limits of permissible...

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