Supreme Court Limits Ability of Prisoners to Seek Redress for Violations of Religious Rights

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Supreme Court Limits Ability of Prisoners to Seek Redress for Violations of Religious Rights

ACLU Filed Brief in Support of Texas Prisoner Denied Access to Prison Chapel

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that prisoners cannot seek monetary damages from states or state officials when their rights are violated under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law meant to protect the religious rights of prisoners.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Texas prisoner who sued the state after he was barred from using a prison chapel. In its brief, the ACLU pointed out that in many cases, prisoners cannot seek a court order halting the violation, either because the violation is already complete or because the prisoner has been transferred or released from the institution where it took place. In such cases, money damages would be the only possible remedy for violations of prisoners’ religious rights. 

The following can be attributed to Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU:

“The ability to freely practice the religion of one’s choice is a fundamental constitutional right and not one that is taken away just because you are incarcerated. Today’s decision will too often leave state prisoners without any remedy for serious violations of their religious rights. And prison policies that violate religious rights will in many cases escape judicial review entirely.”

The case is Sossamon v. Texas, No. 08-1438.

A copy of the ACLU’s brief is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights-religion-belief/sossamon-v-texas

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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