Interfaith Alliance Expresses Disappointment in Supreme Court Decision Regarding Religious Freedom of Prisoners

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Washington, D.C. – Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy expressed disappointment in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that states do not have to pay monetary penalties when prisons are found, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000, to have violated inmates’ religious freedom.  The court ruled in a 6-2 vote that RLUIPA does not entitle prison inmates to pecuniary damages.

Rev. Gaddy issued the following statement in response to Wednesday’s decision in Sossamon v. Texas:

The decision seriously hinders the ability of prison inmates and other institutionalized persons to seek redress for violations of their religious freedom. It removes an important means to hold prison officials accountable to actually end violations and deter them from being repeated in the future, while at the same time curbing protections that were set in place when Congress passed RLUIPA unanimously a decade ago. 

This case provides yet one more example of the crucial role our judiciary can play when it comes to protecting the religious freedom of all Americans or instead, dismantling them.  Unfortunately, in this case, the Supreme Court followed what seems to be a developing trend toward the latter.

Interfaith Alliance joined a friend-of-the-court brief in August 2010, which argued that Congress’ intent with RLUIPA was to allow prisoners to seek damages, and that they have the right to do so.  The American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Committee, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty were among the organizations that joined the brief.