SCOTUS Upholds Student's Right to Sue For Damages After School Violated His Religious Rights

Sergie Daez | March 9, 2021
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Those who support The Constitution’s First Amendment will find themselves at odds with Chief Justice John Roberts.

Roberts was the only dissenting vote in a Supreme Court ruling that favored a student seeking nominal damages from a college that purportedly violated his religious freedoms, according to the Catholic News Agency

The ruling concerns Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which centers around college student Chike Uzuegbunam, an evangelical Christian who tried to proselytize on the campus of Georgia Gwinnett College. School policy restricted when and where someone could evangelize, but the administration demanded that Uzuegbunam cease his efforts even though he had already obtained the school’s obligatory permit needed to preach on the grounds. 

Uzuegbunam responded by suing the college. The staff changed the aforementioned school restrictions to quash the lawsuit, but Uzuegbunam continued to seek nominal damages for the violation of his rights.

Roberts voted against Uzuegbunam since he, and another student involved in the case, “are no longer students at the college. The challenged restrictions no longer exist. And the petitioners have not alleged actual damages.”

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The court ruled in favor of Uzuegbunam on Monday. 

“And if in the course of litigation a court finds that it can no longer provide a plaintiff with any effectual relief, the case generally is moot,” Thomas wrote. “This case asks whether an award of nominal damages by itself can redress a past injury. We hold that it can." 

However, their decision disgusted Roberts.

“The Court sees no problem with turning judges into advice columnists,” he wrote.

In contrast, Justice Clarence Thomas maintained that Uzuegbunam had every reason to sue Georgia Gwinnett College. 

“For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him,” Thomas wrote. “Because ‘every violation [of a right] imports damage,’ nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.”