Evaluating the Sincerity of an Inmate’s Religious Beliefs

Inmates do not forfeit the right to practice their religious faith while they are incarcerated. But of course that right is not unlimited. Officers can impose certain restrictions when an inmate’s religious practices would conflict with the institution’s legitimate interests in safety, security, and good order. There is a lot of case law about those restrictions, both as a constitutional matter under the First Amendment, and under a federal statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)–(2)—which is even more protective of inmates’ rights than the Constitution.

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Limits on Defendants’ Courtroom Attire

Shea and I have blogged before about and lawyer attire and juror attire. I’ve even touched briefly on defendants’ attire, but none of us have ever addressed a judge’s ability to set minimum clothing standards for defendants. That issue has reared its head in Fayetteville, where a district court judge recently held a defendant in contempt for wearing several large voodoo necklaces. The local news story, with a picture, is here, and a transcript of a recording of the incident is here.

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Religious Comments at Sentencing

Entering a sentence is more than a mere recitation of months and years and dollars. A judge has wide latitude to consider all sorts of information at sentencing, and then to make comments about that information when pronouncing judgment. As the Fourth Circuit put it in a leading case, “[t]o a considerable extent a sentencing … Read more