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Monday, September 24, 2012

Restrictions on Religion

In a recent report, the Pew Research Center documents a "rising tide of restrictions on religion" across the world. A sidebar in the report indicates even the United States is not immune:
During the period from mid-2009 to mid-2010, a number of the sources used in the study reported an increase in the number of incidents at the state and local level in which members of some religious groups faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. This included incidents in which individuals were prevented from wearing certain religious attire or symbols, including beards, in some judicial settings or in prisons, penitentiaries or other correctional facilities. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that it was pursuing a lawsuit in federal court against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and various California officials on behalf of a Sikh prison inmate who, in March 2010, had been ordered to trim his facial hair in violation of his religious beliefs. The Justice Department said the state’s inmate grooming policy “imposed a substantial burden” on the man’s ability to exercise his faith.2
Some religious groups in the U.S. also faced difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions. For instance, in May 2010, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the Boulder County Commissioners had discriminated against the Rocky Mountain Christian Church by denying it permits to expand its school and worship facilities even though the commissioners had issued permits to a nearby secular school for a similar expansion.3 The appeals court agreed with the lower court that the commissioners’ actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which protects individuals and institutions from religious discrimination in land-use decisions and protects the religious rights of prisoners and other persons confined to institutions.4 The Justice Department — in a report marking the 10th anniversary of the passage of RLUIPA — noted that 31 of its 51 land-use investigations from 2000-2010 involved Christian groups; most of the remaining 20 investigations involved religious minorities, including Muslims (seven investigations), Jews (six), Buddhists (three) and Hindus (one).5