The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Free Exercise of Religion


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Free Exercise of Religion

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 ACLU 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.

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

Category: Free Speech  Religious Freedom  

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.

2007: Spratt v. Wall

Category: Church and State  Criminal Justice  Free Speech  Religious Freedom  

Successful appeal of a federal court ruling upholding a warden’s decision to bar an inmate from supervised preaching at religious services even though he had done so for seven years without incident. The appeal argued that the ban violates a federal law guaranteeing religious freedom to institutionalized persons. The appellate court reversed the lower court ruling, and the state subsequently adopted a new policy in accordance with the federal law, and also agreed to pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorneys: Lynette Labinger, Carly Iafrate

Learn more about this case >

1991: Tucker v. Glocester Police Department

Category: Church and State  Privacy  Religious Freedom  

Favorably settled complaint challenging the use on police applicants of a standardized psychological test which asked questions relating to religious beliefs.

1990: In re: Our Lady of the Roses Church

Category: Religious Freedom  

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.

1990: Yang v. Sturner

Category: Church and State  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Religious Freedom  

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.

1984: In re: Manuel Roderick

Category: Church and State  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Religious Freedom  

Successful representation of a man who had been refused permission to change his name to an Islamic name because of a past criminal record.

1976: Palmiagiano v. Noel

Category: Criminal Justice  Religious Freedom  

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.

1975: In re: Hodgson

Category: Church and State  Religious Freedom  

Successful defense before an Immigration and Naturalization Service board of a woman initially denied naturalization due to her religious convictions against bearing arms for the country.

1974: Reilly v. Noel

Category: Religious Freedom  

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.