Mark Janny was jailed for refusing to participate in religious activities of a faith in which he does not believe. While on parole, Mark was ordered by his parole officer to stay at the Denver Rescue Mission in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Rescue Mission required Mark to participate in religious services, Bible studies, and proselytizing counseling. Mark informed his parole officer and the operators of the Rescue Mission that he objected to taking part in these religious activities because, as an atheist, he does not subscribe to the Rescue Mission’s Christian faith. Mark’s parole officer and the director of the Rescue Mission told Mark that he would be sent back to jail if he did not participate in the religious activities. When Mark declined to attend religious services, the Rescue Mission’s operators expelled him from the facility. Mark’s parole officer treated this as a parole violation, and Mark was reincarcerated for another 150 days.
Mark filed a lawsuit in federal district court, Janny v. Gamez, against his parole officer and the operators of the Rescue Mission for violating his religious freedom. Mark proceeded without a lawyer before the district court, and the court ruled against him, ignoring both the facts Mark presented and clearly established law that prohibits criminal-justice officials from coercing people who are or have been incarcerated to take part in religious programs. Americans United, the ACLU, and pro bono co-counsel DLA Piper LLP (US) began representing Mark on appeal, and we filed our opening appellate brief in June 2020. The Tenth Circuit ruled in Mark’s favor in August 2021, reversing a grant of summary judgment to the defendants that the district court had issued, and thus allowing the case to proceed to trial in the district court. Alliance Defending Freedom then entered the case for the now-former director of the Rescue Mission and filed a petition with the Supreme Court to review the case.
In January 2022, we reached a settlement with the Rescue Mission’s former director under which Mark will receive damages and the petition for review was withdrawn. We are continuing to litigate Mark’s case against the parole officer. In March 2023, the parole officer filed a partial-summary judgment motion seeking to limit or eliminate Mark’s ability to obtain compensatory damages, and we opposed this motion in May 2023. On November 14, 2023, the court issued a ruling on this motion that allows Mark to pursue substantial damages. Specifically, the court ruled that Mark is eligible to recover punitive damages, compensatory damages for loss of liberty and economic damages for loss of wages for part of the period of his confinement, and nominal damages. A trial in this case has been scheduled for July 2024.