Religious Rivals Unite in Celebration Over Today’s Supreme Court First Amendment Ruling

Religious Rivals Unite in Celebration Over Today’s Supreme Court First Amendment Ruling March 8, 2021

This is from the American Humanist Association:

Today, the American Humanist Association (AHA) celebrates this morning’s Supreme Court’s ruling, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, alongside typical opponent, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). This ruling upheld (8-1) a critical remedy in First Amendment cases.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law itself,” Monica Miller, AHA’s Legal Director and Senior Counsel, remarked. “While we disagree on the proper interpretation of the First Amendment, we joined forces with the ADF because of our shared conviction that First Amendment liberties are meaningless if they cannot be vindicated,” Miller explained.

The AHA was an instrumental force in urging the Supreme Court to take the case and in influencing today’s ruling. In September and March 2020, AHA filed amicus briefs in support of ADF’s case. “Now is the time to instill confidence in an anxious America and celebrate a constitutional heritage strong enough to unite the likes of the AHA and ADF,” Miller wrote in the AHA’s latest Supreme Court brief.

In a sweeping ruling this morning, eight justices on the Supreme Court agreed with ADF and AHA that the law must supply a remedy for the infringement of First Amendment rights.

Read the AHA’s Supreme Court briefs here and here.

Read today’s opinion here.

# # #

The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

To put some more meat on the bone for this news, let’s refer to CNN:

The Supreme Court on Monday revived a lawsuit brought by a former student seeking to hold his state university accountable for violating his First Amendment rights when it barred him from speaking about his religion and distributing religious literature.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for an 8-1 majority, allowed the lawsuit to continue even though the student, Chike Uzuegbunam, who has since graduated, was only asking for $1 in damages and the school’s policy has changed.

Thomas wrote that it was “undisputed” that Uzuegbunam’s rights were violated and that he could proceed with the case even though he was only seeking nominal damages….

On the surface, the case was about a dry legal issue concerning so called nominal damages — awards issued when there is a legal wrong, but no actual financial loss occurred as a result of the wrong. But lurking beyond that issue was a fight brought by strange bedfellows seeking to broaden the path forward to sue the government for First Amendment violations….

In 2016, Uzuegbunam, an evangelical Christian who was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, was standing on a stool in a “speech area” at his school, talking about his religion and passing out religious literature. He had followed the school’s direction and reserved a spot designated by the school as a “speech zone.”

But he was approached by campus police who said there had been complaints about his speech. The officer said the space did not allow “open air speaking” and that he had violated the school’s code of conduct because his speech constituted disorderly conduct.

Uzuegbunam and a fellow student sued in December 2016, claiming that the college’s speech policies violated the First Amendment. As the suit was pending, the school changed its policy so that students generally would be allowed to “speak” anywhere on campus without a permit. They asked a district court to dismiss the case, noting that Uzuegbunam had graduated. Lower courts agreed, holding that he could not ask for nominal damages after the school changed its policy.

But lawyers for Uzuegbunam, supported by civil rights groups, asked the Supreme Court to allow such lawsuits to go forward to ensure the government can be held accountable and that there couldn’t be a future policy change. For them, it was not about the money, but the injury.

Kristen K. Waggoner, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberties group representing Uzuegbunam, asked the Supreme Court to revive the lawsuit and asked for $1.00 in damages.

“Nominal damages provide a remedy in many contexts, redressing injuries that transcend price tags, from unconstitutional searches and seizures to free exercise and due process violations, to censorship and compulsion of speech,” Waggoner told the justices.

She drew the support of then-President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, which argued that the student faced an “unquestionable injury” and the school faced no consequence for its initial action. A brief filed by the ACLU and other civil rights groups also weighed in in favor of the student….


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