(WASHINGTON, DC, 12/10/20) –The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision affirming the right to obtain damages against federal officials who violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.
SEE: Supreme Court Says Muslim Men Can Sue FBI Agents In No-Fly List Case
RFRA prohibits the federal government from imposing substantial burdens on religious exercise, absent a compelling interest pursued through the least restrictive means. RFRA permits “appropriate remedies” for a violation. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held monetary damages were “appropriate.”
The case is titled Tanzin v. Tanvir. The case was brought by City University of New York’s (CUNY) legal clinic known as CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) on behalf of three Muslims who were told that they would only be removed from the No Fly List if they agreed to become FBI informants against their community.
READ THE DECISION HERE: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/20pdf/19-71_qol1.pdf
“In the context of suits against Government officials, damages have long been awarded as appropriate relief,” explained Justice Thomas. Indeed, damages are “also the only form of relief that can remedy some RFRA violations.”
This echoes the message CAIR told the court. CAIR and its California, Michigan, New York, and Oklahoma chapters signed an amicus brief along with dozens of other religious rights organizations that warned the court that “[i]n order to protect religious liberty, RFRA must deter would-be wrongdoers.” The amicus brief went on to explain that in many cases, “the statute cannot achieve its explicitly stated aims without a damages remedy.”
READ THE BRIEF: https://tinyurl.com/TanzinvTanvir
CAIR’s Civil Rights Director, Lena Masri, lauded the Court’s decision: “Congress made the wise decision to guarantee our sacred right to religious freedom and to make that guarantee meaningful. This decision reaffirms Congress’s promise.”
“We congratulate Ramzi Kassem and the CUNY CLEAR Clinic on their victory, and commend them for their amazing advocacy,” added Masri.
“Money talks,” noted CAIR Attorney Justin Sadowsky. “By holding individual officers liable for violating Americans’ civil rights, including American Muslims like the plaintiff in Tanzin, the Government will take those rights seriously.”
The court in Tanzin also explained how the decision interacted with the Religious Land Use and Individualized Persons Act, known as RLUIPA, a religious freedom law that protects the same rights in state and local government land use and incarceration. Contrasting the decision with one that prohibited damages against state governments under RLUIPA, Justice Thomas explained, “[t]he obvious difference is that this case features a suit against individuals, who do not enjoy sovereign immunity.”
CAIR attorneys regularly bring suits against the federal government under RFRA and against state and local prisons under RLUIPA on behalf of Muslims whose rights have been violated.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.
La mision de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensian del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.