D.N.H. on Meaning of "Substantial Burden" in RLUIPA

A federal court in D. New Hampshire has addressed the meaning of the term "substantial burden" in Section 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Section 3 provides, in part, that "No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution." Here's an excerpt from the case (Farrow v. Stanley, Slip Copy, 2005 WL 2671541 (D.N.H. Oct. 20, 2005):

Neither the Supreme Court nor the First Circuit has had occasion to interpret the term "substantial burden," and the circuit courts that have done so are in disagreement. The Eighth Circuit requires significant infringement on a "central tenet" or fundamental activity of religious practice.

. . .

Although the circuits have split, the better reasoned view is that the "substantial burden" requirement does not turn on the centrality of a particular religious practice to the plaintiff's religion. To hold otherwise disregards RLUIPA's definition of "religious exercise," which expressly protects practices that are not central to a practitioner's religious beliefs. Thus, I conclude that a prison policy substantially burdens religious exercise under RLUIPA if it coerces the inmate to modify his religious behavior significantly or to violate his religious beliefs.


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