Cutter v. Wilkinson
544 U.S. 709 (2005)

  • The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) (42 U.S.C. §2000cc-1) said that prisoners in facilities that accept Federal funds cannot be denied accommodations necessary to engage in activities for the practice of their own religious beliefs.
  • A number of prisoners in Ohio (including a Wiccan, a Satanist, two Norse Pagans, and a White Supremacist) sued, claiming that Ohio did not sufficiently accommodate their ‘non-mainstream’ religions.
    • For example, Ohio wouldn’t provide chaplains for these religions, wouldn’t give them access to religious literature or ceremonial items, or had a dress code that wouldn’t allow for religious practice.
      • So no pentagrams, pitchforks, burning crosses, or horned helmets?
  • The Trial Court found for the prisoners. Ohio appealed.
    • Ohio argued that RLUIPA improperly advanced religion and thus violated the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The prisoners appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found for the prisoners.
    • The US Supreme Court found that RLUIPA did not violate the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
    • The Court looked back to Locke v. Davey (540 U.S. 714 (2004)), and realized that there will always be situations ‘at the joints’ between the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.
      • Either Ohio burdens the prisoners’ free exercise, or they spend government funds helping religion. Either way they run afoul of some part of the 1st Amendment.
    • In this case, the Court found that since the prisoners faced a “government-created burden”, the balanced tipped more towards the Free Exercise Clause and Ohio must provide accommodations.
      • The Court did note that RLUIPA could run afoul of the 1st Amendment if certain religions received favored treatment, or if free exercise was not properly balanced with other compelling government interests (such as security and order in prisons).