The ruling came about from the case of Harvey Leroy Sossamon III, a Texas prisoner who sued that he was illegally prevented from attending religious services. Attorneys for Sossamon argued that the prison’s denial of access to worship services violated RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000), a statute which protects inmates’ right to practice their faith.
A broad collection of religious and civil liberty organizations (including the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Jewish Committee and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation) joined D.C.-based religious liberty organization, The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom, in drafting an amicus brief in opposition to the Supreme Court decision.
From the brief (PDF):
“Without a damage remedy, RLUIPA could not effectively deter prison misconduct.
The availability of monetary relief was and remains a critical component of the remedy that Congress crafted, and a necessary deterrent of the activity over which Congress was concerned…non-monetary remedies are woefully inadequate on their own to safeguard prisoners’ rights.The fundamental problem is that it is all too easy for prison officials to moot prisoners’ claims for injunctive relief and, if no damages are available, avoid judicial scrutiny of misconduct.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote:
“That monetary damages are ‘appropriate relief’ is, in my view, self-evident. Under general remedies principles, the usual remedy for a violation of a legal right is damages.”
Many other progressive institutions and individuals have also filed briefs opposing the ruling (see a complete list at SCOTUSblog.com), which they argue sets a dangerous precedent for violation of both religious freedom and the separation of Church and State.
Photo credit: Joe Gratz via flickr