The American Civil Liberties Union, along with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and Colorado law firm DLA Piper, represent Mark Janny, an atheist whose religious-freedom rights were violated by his parole officer when Janny was sent to jail after refusing to take part in worship and religious activities.
When Janny was on parole in February 2015, Colorado Department of Corrections Parole Officer John Gamez required him to live at the Denver Rescue Mission, a Christian homeless shelter that offers religious programming for people on parole and other residents. Gamez had an arrangement with the mission’s director to place these individuals there with the understanding that they would take part in compulsory religious worship and practice. Janny, an atheist, objected to the mandatory worship services, Bible studies, and religious counseling, and he asked to be excused from religious programming or to be permitted to live elsewhere.
Gamez and the mission’s staff refused Janny’s request, threatening him with a return to jail if he did not continue living at the mission and participating in the required religious activities. When Janny ultimately declined to attend worship services, Gamez revoked his parole, and Janny was jailed for another five months.
A federal district court ruled against Janny, dismissing his case. However, after the ACLU and others stepped in to represent him, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that every person has “the basic right to be free from state-sponsored religious coercion,” reversing the district court’s decision, denying qualified immunity for the parole officer, and allowing Janny to finally take his case to trial.