Rhode Island Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union


Free Exercise of Religion Court Cases

Highlights over the years

For years, and often with great controversy, the Rhode Island ACLU has fought to protect the First Amendment’s prohibition on government support of religion. At the same time, the Affiliate has been just as assiduous in protecting that Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion against government interference. Below are just a handful of examples of the Rhode Island ACLU’s work defending the free exercise of religion in the Ocean State.

1974: Reilly v. Noel

The Affiliate obtained a favorable court decision on behalf of a group of protesters who had been barred from holding a prayer service in the State House rotunda.

1975: In re: Hodgson

The Affiliate successfully defended a woman who was initially denied naturalization by the Immigration and Naturalization Service due to her religious convictions against bearing arms for the country.

1976: Palmiagiano v. Noel

The Affiliate filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections after a Catholic priest was told he could no longer visit the prison unless he ceased advocating for inmates' rights.

1984: In re: Manual Roderick

The Affiliate successfully represented a man who had been refused permission to change his name to an Islamic name.

1988: Tucker v. Glocester Police Department

The Affiliate successfully represented a born-again Christian who was denied a job as a police officer after failing a standardized psychological test that asked numerous questions relating to religious beliefs.

1990: In re: Our Lady of the Roses Church

The Affiliate successfully represented a Wiccan Church that was initially denied a sales tax exemption by the Division of Taxation on the grounds that it was not a “legitimate” religion.

1991: Yang v. Sturner

The ACLU obtained a settlement on behalf of a Hmong family whose son was autopsied against their religious beliefs; this case was cited by Congress in passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and by the General Assembly in enacting a similar state law, two years later.

2003: The Affiliate successfully interceded on behalf of an interdenominational group of carolers who were told they could not sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve to inmates at the women’s prison in Cranston. (Resolved without litigation)

2007: Spratt v. Wall

The Affiliate prevailed in court on behalf of a Christian inmate who had been preaching in prison for over seven years before administrators stopped him based on vague and unsubstantiated security concerns.

2010: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society v. Segardia de Jesus

The Affiliate joined in a “friend of the court” brief, filed with the National ACLU and other New England affiliates, in support of a challenge by Jehovah’s Witnesses to a Puerto Rico law that gave certain neighborhoods the right to close themselves off from political and religious canvassers.

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