During what is often referred to as the holiday season, a variety of cultures and religions honor an equally diverse number of both religious and secular traditions. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Bodhi Day are just some of the religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year. And for many who don’t subscribe to a particular faith tradition, the season is still seen as an occasion to gather with friends and family.
No matter why you are celebrating this holiday season, we can all celebrate living in a country where religious freedom is a fundamental value. The First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses not only protect the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs.
In honor of our country’s proud history of promoting religious freedom, and the ACLU’s commitment to protecting the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith, this holiday season we are highlighting 12 cases we have brought on behalf of a variety of faiths defending religious liberty and the right to religious expression.
Fifth Day: ACLU Defends Christian Prisoner’s Right to Access Prison Chapel
The right to freely express your religious beliefs extends to prisoners, a principle the ACLU has fought for time and again. The ACLU and the ACLU of Texas filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the right of a prisoner in Texas to seek monetary damages from the state after he was denied access to a prison chapel for religious purposes.
The plaintiff in this case, a Texas state prisoner, was denied the opportunity to participate in Christian worship services. He sued, seeking injunctive relief and damages. Texas changed its policy mid-litigation, mooting the claim for injunctive relief, and successfully argued in the lower courts that it was immune from damages.
The ACLU amicus brief argued that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 authorizes the federal courts to order “appropriate relief” when the religious rights of prisoners are violated. Ultimately the Court ruled against the plaintiff, but the ACLU believes 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. The Court’s decision will too often leave state prisoners without any remedy for serious violations of their religious rights. Read more…