In a rare nearly-unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided with a Christian college student whose right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion were initially silenced by his college campus in Georgia, as reported by ABC News.
The 8-1 decision was led by Justice Clarence Thomas, with Chief Justice John Roberts being the sole dissenting vote. Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas said that Chike Uzuegbunam, an African-American Evangelical Christian, can seek nominal damages from Georgia Gwinnett College, after officials at the school told him he was not allowed to hand out Christian literature on the campus’s “free speech zone.” This comes even after the school reversed course from its initial restrictions, and after Uzuegbunam ultimately graduated.
“It is undisputed that he experienced a complete 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 qualify that harm in economic terms.”
“When public officials violate constitutional rights, it causes serious harm to the victims,” said attorney Kristen Waggoner, who works for the group Alliance Defending Freedom, which frequently defends religious liberty and other constitutional rights in such cases as this, and served as Uzuegbunam’s defense team in the case. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court weighed in on the side of justice for those victims.”
In his lone dissent, Roberts argued that the case was moot because Uzuegbunam was “no longer a student at the college, the challenged restrictions no longer exist, and the petitioners have not alleged actual damages.” As such, he claimed that the Supreme Court could not grant Uzuegbunam “any effectual relief whatsoever.”