Constitutionality of Statute Protecting Prisoners’ Religious FreedomMadison v. Riter (amicus) 

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is a federal statute providing that state prisons and other institutions that receive federal funds may not impose substantial burdens on inmates’ free exercise of religion, unless such burdens are the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling state interest. The statute is particularly important because the courts have eviscerated inmates’ right to free exercise of religion under the Constitution. An inmate named Ira Madison brought a RLUIPA claim in the Western District of Virginia challenging the prison’s refusal to give him kosher meals. The state argued that RLUIPA establishes religion in violation of the First Amendment, and the judge agreed, striking down the statute. The case was appealed. We filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit along with the ACLU National Prison Project and other religious rights advocates. The case was argued on October 28, 2003. On December 8, 2003, the Fourth Circuit ruled that RLUIPA does not violate the Establishment Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the state's request to review the case.  In a separate case, however, the Court agreed with us that RLUIPA is constitutional.

The Fourth Circuit returned Madison v. Riter to the lower court, where the state argued RLUIPA is unconstitutional because Congress overreached its authority when it enacted the statute violating the Spending and Commerce clauses, in addition to the Eleventh Amendment.  The state again appealed to the Fourth Circuit, this time arguing that RLUIPA violated the spending clause.  The ACLU of Virginia filed a new amicus brief supporting RLUIPA's constitutionality in June 2006.  In December 2006, the Fourth Circuit ruled that RLUIPA does not violate the spending clause.

Court Documents:

Brief Amicus Curiae, June 2006- U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit (pdf)

Decision, December 8, 2003- U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit (pdf)

Brief Amicus Curiae of Religious and Civil Rights Organizations in Support of Appellants and Reversal (pdf)


Kevin J. Hasson, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Date filed

June 6, 2003


U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit