Sunday, August 25, 2013

RLUIPA-- Indecipherable By "Normal People"?

Those who deal on a regular basis with issues under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act sometimes forget that the statute can be perplexing to lawyers and judges who do not regularly encounter it.  Nothing illustrates this as vividly as last week's 7th Circuit opinion by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook in Mutawakkil v. Huibregtse, (7th Cir., Aug. 19, 2013).  In the case the court held that a prison inmate did not suffer a substantial burden on his free exercise rights in violation of RLUIPA by a state prison rule that requires a formal state-court name change before an inmate can use a religious or spiritual name as his only name. Otherwise the name can be used only along with the name under which the individual was committed to prison. Here the inmate, who was serving a long term for murder, wanted to use the name Prince Atum-Ra Uhuru Mutawakkil.  In introducing his discussion of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, Judge Easterbrook wrote:
This leaves the statute, which often goes by the unpronounceable initialism RLUIPA but which we call "the Act" so that the opinion can be understood by normal people.