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Appeals court upholds federal religious liberty law. (In The Capital).

A federal law intended to protect religious liberty rights has been upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a unanimous Dec. 27 ruling, a three-judge panel approved the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a measure passed in 2000 to give additional legal protections to prisoners and religious groups involved in zoning disputes.

RLUIPA threatens to withhold federal funds from states or cities that substantially burden religious practice without proving that a compelling government interest exists to do so.

The recent decision was a victory for several Muslim inmates who sued the California prison system for refusing to allow them to grow beards or attend Friday prayer services in accordance with tenets of the Islamic faith.

California state officials asked a federal court to dismiss the prisoners' claim, arguing that the federal law exceeded congressional authority and that it subverted the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Attorneys for California also argued that RLUIPA's mandate favored religion, thereby contravening the First Amendment principle of church-state separation.

The 9th Circuit judges were unpersuaded, noting that federal court precedent recognizes "that the government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices and that it may do so without violating the Establishment Clause." The court then found that RLUIPA's purpose was secular and that its primary effect would not advance religion or "foster excessive entanglement" with religion.

"Protecting religious worship in institutions from substantial and illegitimate burdens does promote the general welfare," wrote Judge Dorothy Nelson in Mayweather v. Newland. "The First Amendment, by prohibiting laws that proscribe the free exercise of religion, demonstrates the great value placed on protecting religious worship from impermissible government intrusion."
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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