Supreme Court of the United States
Case No. 15–15, 100 M.S.Ct. 108
SancteAmbrosi, J. delivered the opinion of a unanimous Court.
In establishing a government of the several States, those gathered to draft the Constitution that would stand as the ultimate law of the land also found themselves drafting ten amendments that would pertain to the rights of the citizens and restrictions upon the federal government. Among these, in the very first of these amendments, stands the Establishment Clause. It is by this clause that Congress can make no establishment of a religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof.
As time passed, the United States found itself with the Reconstruction Amendments. Among these is the Fourteenth Amendment, by which this Court and the lower courts of this nation has found that certain rights of the citizens according to the federal government apply also to the several States. Indeed, in Everson v. Board of Education, this Court found that the Establishment Clause is one of those parts so applicable. 330 U.S. 1 (1947). Neither the federal government nor any government of the several States holds the capability to establish a religion or to prohibit the free exercise of religion.
Stands before this Court today, the Peaceful Offender Religious Rehabilitation Act of the Western State (“PORRA”). Petitioner argues that this law violates the conditions set forth by this Court in Everson and is, thus, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause. Respondent has argued that Petitioner did not follow proper procedure and lacks standing to bring this case.
This case was brought under the old rules and during a time that state courts were not yet fully established. Under these rules, Petitioner held the ability to rightly petition the Court for relief. Even so, this Court did question standing of Petitioner, concerned of the possibility that organizations of other states could claim national status and bring cases against whatever government they please. So this Court questioned Petitioner, at which time a citizen of Western State, /u/Didicet, came forward and claimed membership in Petitioner’s organization. Thus, this Court concludes that Petitioner has proper standing under the applicable rules.
Since Petitioner has standing, it is our duty, then, to consider the merits of the case. As such, we look to the principles set forth in Everson and discuss those relevant to the law in question.
1. Laws that aid religion.
Among the principles set forth in Everson, it is stated that “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can…pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another.” 330 U.S. at 15.
Among the requirements of PORRA exists that which states that the religion “must be over 200 years old and must have a serious verifiable monastic tradition” (Section 1(c)). It is quite obvious even by the existence of this requirement in the law that not every religion meets the requirements set forth by the government of Western State. Further, the law requires that the organization be religious. It provides no areligious or atheistic alternative in similar program.
The attempt of Western State to determine qualifying religions for the purposes of the program it is attempting to implement is necessarily a preference of one religion or another. Further, the fact that Western State requires a participating organization to be religious in nature constitutes the passage of a law that aids religion.
Western State has blatantly and without question violated this principle of the Establishment Clause test.
2. Profession against the will.
The second principle applicable to the current case is that “Neither a state nor the Federal Government…can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” 330 U.S. at 15. Under this principle, this Court holds that there can be no use of force or coercion to cause any citizen thereof to adhere to, believe with, or participate in a particular religion.
The PORRA allows those citizens convicted of certain offenses under Western State law to choose between serving their time in a state correctional facility or within a religious monastery. There is inherent disparity between these two organizations. The first is erected for the primary and sole purpose of the confinement and punishment of offenders of criminal laws. The second is erected for the voluntary abandonment of certain worldly pleasures for the sake of following certain practices of the specific religion. While both involve abandonment of certain rights and pleasures available to the world, the religious monastery is generally a more comfortable environment and allows for greater freedom of an individual. The garb worn in a monastery do not label the wearer an offender of the law. Normatively, a resident in a monastery is not met with metal bars on doors and windows, armed guards, or other such security features of a correctional facility, and so on.
Because of the disparity between the two facilities, the State has made itself coercive toward its citizens. It has offered its citizens the option to go sit behind bars and be subject to armed guards or become favorable to religion and willing to participate in it for the sake of a better environment focused more on rehabilitation rather than punishment. This option, combined with the fact that Western State does not provide for all religious beliefs or lack thereof in its programs, is unnecessarily coercive toward qualifying convicts and acts as an influence upon a person to go to church or to profess a certain belief or religion.
PORRA, therefore, finds itself in violation of this principle.
3. Punishment for belief or disbelief.
The Court in Everson further states that “[n]o person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.” 330 U.S. at 15. Under this principle, no citizen of any state can receive punishment because of their specific ideology.
The PORRA does not specify that an offender need to adhere to the ideologies of the religious organization participating in the program. However, the law does require interviews to be performed with the organization without citing any restrictions upon the organization in its decision process. The law does not preclude an organization from refusing an offender because that offender is not of the same faith tradition. Further, the law places no restrictions upon the program itself and its religious contents. Since religious organizations, especially of a monastic nature, both internally and externally adhere to the tenets and practices of its religious practice, a reasonable person could conclude that a participating offender would be made subject to the ideology of the organization. This law, therefore, inherently favors those offenders who are of the same religious tradition as the participating organization. It leaves in prison those who are of religions that are not participatory or who are without religion altogether. The disparagement of conditions between a monastery and a prison, as well as the disparity between the programs within those organizations, is sufficient enough that this Court finds a violation of the above principle. The State, while perhaps not intending to do so, is punishing those who do not adhere to the religious traditions of qualifying organizations simply by the fact that such persons do not thereto adhere.
PORRA, therefore, finds itself in violation of this principle.
4. Religious participation in state affairs.
Everson further states that “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. 330 U.S. at 16. The “vice versa” at the end of this principle means that no religious organization can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any state or the Federal Government.
This is, perhaps, the most obvious an blatant violation of the Establishment Clause by the Western State. The very basis of the law, found in its name, is rehabilitation of state offenders through religious institutions. It necessarily involves religious organizations in the punishment and rehabilitation of criminal offenders, which is an inherent activity of the state.
While it has been the practice to be inclusive of religious-based counseling and treatment organizations in rehabilitation efforts, the fact that the organizations are religious-based has always been secondary. The means and reason of involvement in state criminal programs has always been on the basis that such organizations exist for the counseling and/or treatment of individuals.
However, in PORRA, we see a huge departure from the law. Not only are the involved organizations not rehabilitative in their mission or founding, they are required to be religious. The Western State, in passing this law, has completely flipped the generally accepted practice: it has eschewed the counseling and treatment basis of involvement for religion itself. In doing so, it allows for religions, on the basis that they are a religion, to become intimately involved in a responsibility and action of the state, participating in the state’s enforcement of criminal statutes.
There can be no question that PORRA violates this principle.
The Court in Everson found six principles in the meaning of the Establishment Clause. Of these six principles, PORRA finds itself in violation of at least four. This Court believes these violations to be so obvious and blatant that it need not enter into the realm of the subsequent tests created by this Court in order to find them. As the law in question violates the very principles upon which all of these tests are based, it is necessarily in violation under the tests, as well.
Therefore, the Peaceful Offender Religious Rehabilitation Act of the Western State is wholly and completely in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Its provisions, therefore, cannot be rightfully enforced, and it is stricken in its entirety.
It is so ordered.