O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz 482 U.S. 342 (1987)
O'LONE v. ESTATE OF SHABAZZ 482 U.S. 342 (1987)
Regulations at a New Jersey prison forbade minimum-security inmates who worked outside the main prison building from reentering the building during the day, thus preventing certain Muslim prisoners from attending their weekly worship service held on Fridays. Required by the Koran to attend the service, the prisoners filed suit, claiming violation of their rights under the free exercise clause. Adopting what was essentially a compelling state interest test, the court of appeals held that the prison had to prove "that no reasonable method exists by which [the prisoners'] religious rights can be accommodated without creating bona fide security problems." In a 5–4 decision the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the court of appeals paid insufficient deference to prison officials, who have authority to enact any prison regulations "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests."
justice william j. brennan, writing for the dissenters, accused the majority of uncritically accepting the assertions of prison administrators. Brennan did not claim that the courts should never defer to the judgment of prison authorities; but when the prison completely deprives prisoners of a right and where the activity in question is not presumptively dangerous, Brennan maintained that prison officials should be required to show that the denial of the right is no greater than necessary to achieve the government's objective.
Shabazz foreshadowed the Court's eventual abolition of the compelling-state-interest test for all free-exercise cases in employment division, department of human resources of oregon v. smith (1990).
John G. West, Jr.