Washington Law Review


Anne Y. Chiu


The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) prohibits state and local governments from substantially burdening a prisoner's exercise of religion unless the government can show that its action is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. Prior to RLUIPA, courts subjected prisoners' claims of violations of their right to exercise their religion to a "rational-relationship" standard. Because RLUIPA ("the Act") places a "strict scrutiny" standard on government actions burdening prisoners' religious exercise, the Act is a legislative accommodation of religion. Under Lemon v. Kurtzman, legislative accommodations violate the Establishment Clause if their primary effect is to advance religion. When applying the Lemon test, the U.S. Supreme Court has considered three factors particularly relevant in determining whether a legislative accommodation advances religion: the severity of the burden on religion that the accommodation seeks to relieve, the burden the accommodation imposes on third parties, and the scope of the accommodation. This Comment argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should hold that RLUIPA is constitutional because it lifts substantial burdens on religious exercise, does not burden third parties, and has a broad enough scope in light of its secular legislative purpose.

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