It's a big week in the Supreme Court for church-state argument. In addition to tomorrow's hearing in the Arizona tuition tax credit challenge, this morning the court heard Sossamon v. Texas, a case involving an inmate's ability to sue for money damages when their religious freedom rights have been violated under RLUIPA. The Baptist Joint Committee filed a brief arguing for the importance of being allowed to ask for damages.
Lyle Denniston previews the case at SCOTUSblog:
There is no question, in the Sossamon case, that, in passing the 2000 civil rights law to protect the religious rights of individuals kept in state institutions like prisons, Congress had the constitutional authority to pass such a law. It had found, after a three-year investigation, that indifference, ignorance, bigotry or simple lack of resources had led to sometimes serious restrictions on the religious practices of prisoners or patients in state institutions. Congress, in the RLUIPA law, linked the duty to protect religious freedom and practices to states’ receipt of federal funds. The Spending Clause was thus one source of its authority to pass that law..
Congress also decided that, in addition to federal government enforcement of those rights, it would allow private individuals — prisoners and patients, as examples — to file lawsuits claiming violation of their RLUIPA rights. Again, creating that right is a power that Congress has. And, in allowing such lawsuits against states or state officials, and local governments and local officials, Congress said that the remedies for violations could include “appropriate relief.” It did not define that phrase explicitly, however.
And out of that lack of definition has emerged the Sossamon case.
[UPDATE: You can read a transcript of today's Supreme Court oral argument here (pdf).]