Thursday, August 11, 2022

9th Circuit: Prof Gets Qualified Immunity In Suit Challenging His Course Presentation Of Islam

In Sabra v. Maricopa County Community College District,(9th Cir., Aug. 10, 2022), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision held that a Community College professor is entitled to qualified immunity in a suit against him claiming that his online module on Islamic terrorism in a World Politics course violated plaintiffs' Establishment Clause and Free Exercise rights. Plaintiffs claimed the module's primary message was disapproval of Islam and that the end-of-module quiz forced a Muslim student to disavow his religion by choosing answers reflecting a radical interpretation of Islam. The majority held that there is no case law "clearly establishing" that defendants' actions violated the First Amendment. It also concluded that plaintiffs had abandoned their municipal liability claim against the College on appeal.

Judge VanDyke filed a concurring opinion saying in part that "The only thing clearly established about ... [Plaintiffs' free exercise] claim is that nothing about it is clearly established."

Judge Bress dissented, saying in part:

I would have met Sabra’s Free Exercise claim on the merits rather than rely on legally infirm alternative grounds for affirmance. Sabra’s allegations are troubling, concern matters of sincerely held religious conviction, and warrant further judicial inquiry.