Free Exercise of Religion
U.S. Supreme Court
Cutter v. Wilkinson (2004) - In this brief filed on behalf of a coalition of organizations that successfully lobbied for the passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), ADL defended the constitutionality of Section III of RLUIPA. This portion of the statute protects the religious rights of people detained within prisons, public mental hospitals and other government facilities. The brief argued that Section III is a valid religious accommodation under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The Court agreed and in a unanimous decision ruled that Section III is a constitutional religious accommodation. This decision guarantees inmates and other institutionalized persons strong protections against arbitrary or frivolous restrictions on religious practices. However, the Court also struck an appropriate balance between religious freedom and prison security by making clear that these protections do not rise above potential threats to prison safety. PDF 222 kb
Locke v. Davey (2003)
This case examined the "play in the joints" between the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment -- whether "there are some state actions permitted by the Establishment Clause but not required by the Free Exercise Clause." The Court considered this issue in the context of a Washington state constitutional provision providing for even stricter separation of church and state than the Establishment Clause and a rule based on this provision prohibiting use of state scholarship funds for college-level theology degrees. A theology student who was denied such a scholarship claimed that the rule and constitutional provision violated the Free Exercise Clause. In its brief, ADL argued that the provision and rule did not violate the Free Exercise Clause, and reflected sound public policy. It is in the state's interest to safeguard religious freedom by ensuring religious equity, and invalidating the school's policy would tip "the balance between the religion clauses - with Free Exercise being given unprecedented importance at the expense of Establishment Clause principles." Finding that Washington has a historic and "substantial interest in not funding the pursuit of devotional degrees and the exclusion of such funding places a relatively minor burden" on scholarship recipients, the Court held that "room exists between the two religion clauses" for this constitutional provision and scholarship rule. PDF 84 kb
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah (508 U.S. 520 (1993))
This case involved a series of ordinances passed by the City Council of Hialeah, Florida which were specifically enacted for the purpose of halting the Church's practice of ritual animal sacrifices on special occasions of religious significance. ADL, together with a number of other organizations, successfully argued that the ordinances violated the Free Exercise Clause because they were not neutral and specifically targeted a religious practice. ADL's brief also maintained that there was no compelling governmental interest supporting the discrimination against religion in this case.
PDF 134 kb
Goldman v. Weinberger (475 U.S. 503 (1986))
This case was brought by a psychologist in the United States Air Force who was also an Orthodox Jew and an ordained rabbi. An Air Force headgear regulation did not permit the officer to wear his yarmulke while on duty and in Air Force uniform. ADL filed a brief and argued that the regulation was unconstitutional because as applied to the officer because it fails reasonably to accommodate the officer's Free Exercise rights. Unfortunately, the Court did not agree and held that First Amendment challenges to military regulations are examined with less scrutiny than similar civilian challenges. In 1987, however, Congress passed legislation which reversed this decision and allowed members of the armed forces to wear religious apparel in a "neat and conservative" manner.
PDF 145 kb
Sherbert v. Verner (374 U.S. 398 (1963)): This suit was filed by a woman who was denied unemployment compensation because she had refused to accept jobs that required work on Saturday, the Holy Day of her religion. In its brief, ADL successfully maintained that she had been denied the benefits of a social welfare program solely on the basis of her religious practices and that, as a result, a violation of the Free Exercise Clause had taken place. PDF 1,255 kb
U.S. Courts of Appeals
Willis v. Indiana Department of Corrections(7th Circuit, 2011)
The Indiana Department of Corrections offers vegan meals but has refused to provide kosher meals to prisoners on the premise that they are too costly. ADL joined the American Jewish Committee and the Indianapolis JCRC in urging the court to compel the state of Indiana to serve kosher meals to Jewish prison inmates who request them for religious reasons. In addition to providing background on kashrut laws, the amicus brief argued that depriving prisoners of kosher meals creates a substantial burden under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and that cost does not constitute a compelling government interest sufficient to justify that burden. The Department of Corrections voluntarily dismissed its appeal.
PDF 1.77 mb
Islamic Center of North Fulton, Inc. v. City of Alpharetta, Georgia (U.S.D.C. N.D. Georgia, 2011)
On behalf of ICOM (Interfaith Coalition on Mosques), ADL filed a brief supporting the assertion of the Islamic Center of North Fulton, a non-profit organization that runs an Islamic house of worship in Alpharetta, Georgia, that its plan to construct a new worship center to accommodate its growing congregation was illegally blocked by the City of Alpharetta. The City rejected the Islamic Center’s application to expand, citing a condition against expansion which Fulton County had imposed on the center in 1998 (following a demand by the Fairfax Homeowners Association). ICOM’s brief relies upon the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) – a federal statute ADL was instrumental in passing – which safeguards the religious freedom of houses of worship and other religious institutions in the land-use context by requiring courts to apply a strict standard for reviewing laws that substantially burden religious exercise.
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A.G.A. Islamic Organization, Inc. v. City of Lilburn, Georgia(U.S.D.C., Northern District of Georgia, 2011)
On behalf of ICOM (Interfaith Coalition on Mosques), ADL filed a brief supporting the Dar-e-Abbas congregation’s federal lawsuit against the City of Lilburn, Georgia. The Dar-e-Abbas congregation has for eleven years worshiped in a 100- year-old building. The lawsuit alleges that the City affirmatively prevented the congregation from building a new house of worship, and that it made no efforts to accommodate Dar-e-Abbas’ need to expand by unlawfully denying applications for rezoning or spending use permits and adopting a discriminatory zoning ordinance. ICOM’s brief relies upon the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) – a federal statute ADL was instrumental in passing – which safeguards the religious freedom of houses of worship and other religious institutions in the land-use context by requiring courts to apply a strict standard for reviewing laws that substantially burden religious exercise.
PDF 327 kb
A.A. v. Needville Independent School District (5th Cir 2009). A Texas federal district court granted a permanent injunction preventing an elementary school from enforcing the school district's hair style policy against a 5-year old whose family taught him to wear his hair in two long braids in the tradition of Native American religions. In response to the school district’s appeal of that decision, ADL argued that by refusing to grant the boy an exemption from its policy against long hair for boys, it effectively forces him and his parents to sacrifice their deeply held religious beliefs, or else to forgo public education entirely. Punishing a kindergartner or denying him access to the public schools for the simple, non-disruptive act of wearing long hair in accordance with his family’s sincere religious beliefs is irreconcilable with basic principles of religious liberty.
PDF 107 kb
Westchester Day School v. Village of Mamaroneck (2nd Cir. 2004). Westchester Day School, a religious school, challenged the Village Zoning Board of Appeals' revocation of a favorable decision that would have permitted the school to renovate and construct school buildings. In its brief, ADL defended the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). The Court did not reach the case’s constitutional issues. Rather, it reversed the lower court’s favorable finding for the School on the grounds that the lower court had to resolve certain factual questions in further proceedings.
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Murphy v. Zoning Commission of the Town of New Milford. (2nd Cir. - 2005). Robert and Mary Murphy challenged a Town order prohibiting them from using their home to host prayer meetings of over twenty-five persons. In its brief, ADL defended the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). The Court did not reach the case’s constitutional issues. Rather, it decided that the Murphys could not proceed in federal court without first obtaining a final local ruling about the town's order from a zoning board of appeals. Based on this finding, the Court dismissed the Murphys' case without prejudice. Once the Murphys obtain a final local order, they may refile their RLUIPA claim in federal court.
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Elsinore Christian Center v. City of Lake Elsinore (9th Circuit – 2004). The Christian Center challenged the City’s denial of its application for a conditional-use permit to operate a church on a piece of property owned by a school. In its brief, ADL defended the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. PDF 1.7 mb
Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Yuba City v. County of Sutter (9th Circuit - 2004). The Sikh Society challenged the County's denial of permit to build a temple on property owned by the group. In its brief, ADL defended the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
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Benning v. Georgia (11th Cir. - 2004). A Jewish inmate challenged the Georgia Department of Corrections for denying him Kosher food and permission to wear a Yarmulke, a religious head covering. In its brief, ADL successfully defended the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). The Court found RLUIPA constitutional. It determined that Congress properly exercised its spending power in enacting RLUIPA, and that RLUIPA did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause or the Tenth Amendment.
PDF 283 kb
Konikov v. Orange County (11th Cir. - 2004). A Rabbi challenged the County's requirement that he obtain a special exception to use a house in a residential neighborhood for religious services. In its brief, ADL defended the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The Court issued a multipart decision addressing the Rabbi's claims under RLUIPA's Equal Terms provision and Substantial Burden on Religion provision. The Equal Terms provision prohibits local governments from enacting or applying land use regulations that treat religious groups less favorably than non-religious groups, and the Substantial Burden provision prohibits local governments from applying land use and zoning regulations in ways that substantially burden the religious exercise of individuals or religious institutions. The Court found the Equal Terms provision constitutional. Finding that the county treated the Rabbi's religious assembly on less than equal terms than non-religious assemblies, the Court reversed the lower court's dismissal of the Rabbi's Equal Terms claim. The Court upheld the lower court's dismissal of the Rabbi's Substantial Burden claim, but did not address this provision's constitutionality.
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Estes v. Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission (Chancery Court for Rutherford County, 2010)
Opponents of a new mosque in Tennessee asked a judge to block the project arguing that in approving the mosque, county officials violated Tennessee's Sunshine Laws by failing to give proper public notice of a meeting discussing the project and placed county citizens at risk. On behalf of, and as part of, the International Coalition on Mosques, ADL submitted an amicus brief arguing that a reversal in the previous land use determination permitting the mosque would substantially burden its exercise of religion and would therefore be a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and that nothing in the complaint established the compelling government interest that would justify interfering with the religious freedom of the mosque’s builders.
PDF 442 kb
Brown vs. F.L. Roberts & Co (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court)
The Plaintiff, a practicing Rastafarian, who in accordance with his religion, does not shave or cut his hair, was barred from customer contact after his employer was advised by a marketing consultant that businesses with clean shaven employees were more successful than those without. The Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that exempting Brown from the clean shaven policy constituted an undue burden on the employer and Brown appealed. ADL filed a brief at the Supreme Judicial Court arguing that such deference to customer preference would undercut the already slim protections for religious employees to dress as their religion requires them. Moreover, this case would provide employers with a road map to lawfully exclude members of minority faiths, racial or ethnic groups from the workplace and would allow employers to exclude Kippah-wearing Jews, cross-wearing Christians and Hajib-wearing Muslims from the workplace simply by using the subjective and amorphous concept of “customer preference” as a justification. PDF 317 kb
In the Matter of the Marriage of James H. Boldt and Lia Boldt (Oregon Supreme Court – 2007). The case addresses the right of a custodial parent who is converting to Judaism to arrange for his minor son to be circumcised. The mother in the case has objected to the procedure, contending that it has “grave and drastic consequences” and that the father’s decision to have his son circumcised calls into question his capability as a parent. The amicus brief explains to the court the importance of circumcision in Jewish tradition. It then asserts that “enabling the circumcision of a child, whether as part of a religious conversion or for medical reasons, cannot as a matter of law indicate any infirmity in a parent’s ability to function as a parent. Moreover, any decision to single out circumcision as a basis for questioning the fitness of the custodial parent would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion.” PDF 2.27 mb
Pastor Rick Barr v. City of Sinton (Tex Supreme Court, 2009)
A pastor challenged a zoning ordinance precluding free housing and religious instruction for men recently released from prison within “1000 feet of a residential area … church, synagogue, or other place of worship.” Affirming a lower court decision upholding the ordinance, the court of appeals held the half way houses could be moved to other areas in or outside the town and zoning restrictions do not substantially burden auxiliary religious operations. The ADL filed an amicus brief in support of the pastor, arguing that courts should not determine what is auxiliary and what is central to a religious organization. Such a standard violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states “religious exercise does not need to be motivated by a central part or central requirement of the person’s sincere religious belief.” The Supreme Court of Texas reversed, adopting the ADL’s position, agreeing that TRFRA protection extends to all sincere religious beliefs, and the judiciary is not suited to determine what is auxiliary to a religious group or belief. PDF 713 kb