Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic Represents Coalition of Faiths in Support of Rights of Prisoners Before U.S. Supreme Court

Author: Notre Dame Law School

Notre Dame, IN — Yesterday, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Bruderhof, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh groups asking the U.S. Supreme Court to remedy the denial of any legal remedy to a Rastafarian man who was forcibly and illegally shaved by prison guards.

In Landor, plaintiff Damon Landor, a devout Rastafarian, had his religious rights stripped away by state officials when he was forced to cut his dreadlocks in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs. Landor has since been released from prison and is seeking monetary damages against the state officials who flagrantly violated his religious freedom.

The Clinic filed the brief on behalf of the Bruderhof, CLEAR, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and the Sikh Coalition. It asserts that the Supreme Court should grant certiorari and rule that monetary damages should be considered “appropriate relief” to remedy religious liberty violations under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).


Landor v. Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety

Click on the link above to read the case documents that Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic filed in the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Religious Liberty Clinic Legal Fellow Francesca Matozzo said, “This case provides a particularly egregious example of why injunctive relief is not enough to ensure that prisons respect the religious rights of their detainees. The Fifth Circuit already told the Louisiana prison system that its grooming policy violates RLUIPA. The court was appalled that the prison flouted its prior ruling. And yet the majority believed that it is powerless to redress his wrong without further guidance from the Supreme Court.”

Landor was incarcerated in the summer of 2020. He had been growing his dreadlocks for 20 years after taking the Nazarite vow of separation, an ancient biblical oath which commands the Nazarite to let their hair grow long in dedication to the Lord. During his first five months of incarceration, he was held at two facilities that allowed him to keep his dreadlocks.

On December 28, 2020, three weeks before his release date, Landor was transferred to the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center, where he was directed to cut his hair. Despite explaining that his dreadlocks were an expression of his Rastafarian faith — and handing the guard a copy of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in a previous case which held that the State’s policy requiring Rastafarians to cut their hair was unlawful — Landor alleges that the officer ordered him to be handcuffed to a chair, forcibly restrained, and shaved completely bald.

Landor received no redress for this egregious conduct at the district court. On appeal, a vast majority of the Fifth Circuit’s judges, voting on whether to take the case en banc, wrote separately to acknowledge the heinousness of the prison’s actions. Yet a majority of the judges believed that — because Landor was no longer imprisoned — the Fifth Circuit could not provide him relief unless the Supreme Court ruled on the question of whether RLUIPA allows monetary damages.

Landor now seeks review from the Supreme Court, asking the Court to answer the Fifth Circuit’s request and make clear that plaintiffs may win monetary relief under RLUIPA.

The Clinic’s brief supports Landor’s request, arguing for the importance of complete relief — including monetary damages — especially for vulnerable religious minorities in prison.

John Meiser, director of Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Clinic, said, “In prison, a person’s ability to exercise his religion is at the complete mercy of the government. Prisoners of all faiths thus suffer when officials are ignorant of — or, worse, hostile to — their religious needs. That threat is magnified tremendously for members of smaller religious communities, which prison officials may be less likely to understand or less willing to accommodate.”

“RLUIPA created robust protections against exactly this kind of mistreatment in prisons,” Meiser continued. “That promise cannot be fully realized if courts limit the relief that prisoners can receive to vindicate their rights.”

The amicus brief was filed on behalf of the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that members of the Sikh community are able to practice their faith; Bruderhof Communities, an intentional community of Christians who suffered persecution for their conscientious objection in Nazi Germany; the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty (JCRL), a nondenominational organization of Jewish communal and lay leaders who seek to protect the ability of all Americans to freely practice their faith; and CLEAR (“Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility”), a project at City University of New York School of Law that protects Muslim and all other communities in the New York City area that are targeted by law enforcement under the guise of national security and counterterrorism.

“People at every level of government must respect the sincere religious practices of people of all faiths, whether popular or little known. Religious freedom is fundamental to society and to human dignity; it's too precious to be protected only for powerful majorities. That's why we count on courts to hold officials to account,” said John Huleatt, General Counsel at the Bruderhof.

“It is common sense as a matter of textual interpretation that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act should be interpreted to allow for monetary damages just like its sister statute the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” added Howard Slugh, General Counsel at JCRL.

“We appreciate this opportunity to inform the Supreme Court why this case is important to religious minorities in general and Jewish Americans in particular. We are very proud to do so alongside a religiously diverse coalition of our friends and neighbors. The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty could not function if it were not for the generosity and incredible work of our friends and allies. We are extremely grateful to the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative for ensuring that our voice would be heard on this important issue,” Slugh concluded.

"The actions of these guards were cruel to Mr. Landor, and a gross violation of religious rights protected under RLUIPA," said Marissa Rossetti, Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney. “All individuals, incarcerated or not, are entitled to the practice of their faith, and no one should suffer religious discrimination while in state custody."

Notre Dame students Alicia Armstrong, Jared Huber, and Chris Ostertag contributed to the brief alongside Matozzo and Meiser.

“What happened to Damon Landor is a travesty,” Ostertag stated. “Landor’s case shows the surpassing importance of judicial relief for the many incarcerated persons who, like Landor, see their faith disrespected and dismissed. It has been an honor to work on a brief that brings this important issue to the Court’s attention.”

About the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic

The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic represents individuals and organizations from all faith traditions to promote not only the freedom for people to hold religious beliefs but also their fundamental right to express those beliefs and to live according to them. Students in the Clinic work under the guidance of Notre Dame Law School faculty and staff to provide advice, counsel, and advocacy on a broad array of matters related to religious freedom in the United States and abroad. The Religious Liberty Clinic has participated in proceedings at all levels of federal and state courts, in administrative agencies, and before foreign courts and other governmental bodies around the world.

Learn more about the Religious Liberty Clinic at

Originally published by Notre Dame Law School at on June 07, 2024.