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ADF: Supreme Court right to uphold law protecting religious individuals and groups

High court unanimously reverses appeals court decision that said RLUIPA violates the Establishment Clause
Published On: 10/18/2017

WASHINGTON—Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund commend the U.S. Supreme Court for rejecting the extreme theory that religious exemptions in the law violate the Establishment Clause.

“This balanced decision rejects the outlandish views of some that ‘separation of church and state’ means that lawmakers can never grant religious exemptions from general laws,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came today in the case Cutter v. Wilkinson.  The lawsuit challenged the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that provides protection to religious groups and individuals in the context of prisons, mental hospitals, and land use.

“If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way, it could have threatened many state and federal laws that grant religious exemptions,” Lorence explained.  “Exemptions for students who do not want to participate in public school classes with objectionable curricula, medical personnel who do not want to perform abortions, and other situations where the law excuses people of faith from violating their conscientious beliefs would have been in jeopardy.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit had ruled that RLUIPA violated the Establishment Clause because it grants special protection to religious groups and individuals.  However, the Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Congress and state legislatures may appropriately determine whether religious adherents need special protection in certain settings, especially when people are in those settings due to government order (e.g., a convicted criminal serving time in prison).

The full text of the Supreme Court’s decision can be read here.

ADF actively defends churches and religious organizations whose rights have been violated under the terms of RLUIPA.  On March 10, ADF attorneys successfully assisted a church in Clark County, Nev., in securing a special use permit despite the reluctance of county commissioners.  In addition, ADF is or has been involved in RLUIPA legal matters in numerous other states, including California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, and Wyoming.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. 

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