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Archive for October 2014

Next Lexington Council Meeting

The next regular meeting of Lexington Council will take place on

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6th at

St. Anthony’s Rectory (862 Manhattan Avenue) at

7:30 P.M.

All members are invited!

Mixing Religion and Politics

A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear Friends,

I grew up in a highly passionate and politically involved family, so, naturally, discussions at the dinner table often involved both politics and religion.

In fact, my exiled family was so grateful to live in a country where one does not end up in jail because of disagreements on politics, we decided to exercise that right daily. Most of our discussions were both robust and polite, although I confess there was one plate-throwing incident I don’t often talk about. Suffice it to say, there were apologies the next day. And new dishes.

So it was a big shock when, upon graduating from college and coming to D.C. (the political capital of the world!), I was told it was impolite to speak about either religion or politics in social situations.

In my young twenty-something mind, I kept wondering, “Well, what else is there to talk about?”

So, I was fascinated (and, I must confess, I felt vindicated) to read a recent Pew survey that showed a couple of interesting trends. First, most Americans see religion’s influence in public life waning—and they think this is negative. Second, more and more Americans support the idea of religious leaders voicing their views on political issues.

Turns out, it looks like Americans actually want to hear about both!

I find this second trend especially compelling, considering one of the cases we handled this year.

You may remember the case. It concerned an IRS law that prohibits pastors from preaching sermons on certain relevant moral issues at certain times, or sermons that address political candidates. The consequence of preaching on these issues is severe: churches lose their tax-exempt status, church members lose tax deductibility for their tithes, and church leaders face punitive excise taxes. The IRS constantly threatens churches with enforcement but almost never actually does anything, probably because it knows that the law would not hold up under constitutional scrutiny.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin, demanding that the IRS enforce this little-known law. We intervened (fancy legal term for “came into the case”), representing an Anglican abbot, Father Patrick Malone, and his 50-member church, Holy Cross Anglican Church.

The FFRF wanted to ban all pastors, including Father Malone, from preaching sermons FFRF considered “too” political.

But because of the Becket Fund’s intervention, the FFRF abandoned its own lawsuit and ran away from its own case. In fact, we think FFRF colluded with the IRS to get its case dismissed quickly.

Bottom line: the case brought to light a chilling law that is meant to censor religious leaders’ words, even in their own churches and during religious services.

This flies in the face of two fundamental American principles that go hand-in-hand: freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

Censorship is not something that Americans favor. The Pew survey demonstrates this strongly. Americans want their religious leaders to weigh in on political issues.

Of course, reasonable people can disagree over whether and how much pastors should preach on politics. But those decisions must be left to churches—no government should tell religious leaders what they should or should not say, or try to control what religious congregations can or cannot hear.

The public is becoming more aware of the forces trying to push religion further and further from the public square. They are becoming more alert to threats to religious freedom—and they do not like what they see.

This is highly encouraging. The Becket Fund has always held that religious freedom has to include robust freedom of religious speech in the public square. It is a great sign that more and more Americans agree.

I am resolved to test this out and talk more about politics and religion at parties. I will keep you posted on any plate throwing.
Sincerely,

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

What’s Your Call Sign?

A Message from the Executive Director
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Dear Friends,

Last week, within a few days of each other, Politico and Time Magazine nicknamed us “God’s Rottweilers” and “God’s ACLU.”

In my Cuban American culture, we are fond of nicknames and view them as a sign of affection. I was amused when I read the articles.

My husband is a retired Marine, and the Marine Corps gives a person a nickname based on the person’s traits—it’s the person’s “call sign.”

What is the Becket Fund’s call sign?

We’ve been called many things since we were founded over 20 years ago: “A powerhouse law firm” and a “conservative law firm” among others.

As the American Prospect recently noted, since our founding, “Becket’s ecumenical commitments set it apart.” The firm has been “beholden to neither party;” it has freely “offered its services to aggrieved believers of all stripes;” and it has taken “cases that gratified and vexed advocates on both sides of the political aisle.”

Who are we? Really?

The answer is simple: we are a public interest law firm that defends the free expression of all religious traditions.

We believe that religious liberty is a basic human right.

We believe that the religious impulse is natural to human culture.

We believe that religious liberty is good for this country, that millions of Americans in need—the homeless, the sick, the poor, the elderly, the imprisoned—depend on people inspired by religious beliefs to serve them.

We believe that every human being is born with a desire to search for the truth and to live life according to that truth.

We believe that the government should not interfere with that search or its public expression, except in extraordinary circumstances.

We believe that religious liberty is not about who God is, but about who we are.

We believe in winning for our clients and for freedom.

This year we have been involved in some high profile cases like Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor and defending the Pledge of Allegiance. But, these cases—as important as they are—do not define our mission.

We also take cases on behalf of religious minorities who have no one else to speak for them. Examples include:

A suit on behalf of Native Americans challenging the destruction of sacred lands;
A suit on behalf of a Sikh woman who was banned from a federal building because of her religious dress;
A suit on behalf of Montana Hutterites whose ancient practice of sharing all of their possessions in common was threatened by government regulations;
Suits on behalf of Jewish prison inmates in Texas, Indiana, and Georgia challenging the denial of a kosher diet;
A suit on behalf of Native American prison inmates in Alabama who were forced to cut their hair

We know our call sign.

We protect religious liberty for all.

I ask you, what is yours?

With sincere regards,

Kika (my Cuban nickname).

What a Year for Freedom at the Supreme Court!

Thursday, October 16, 2014
Dear Friends,

No doubt you have seen all the media buzz about our most recent Supreme Court case, Holt v. Hobbs. We were in Time magazine and Washington Post, among others. And for good reason.

It is a huge case—and one that has brought together an unusual combination of allies rallying behind Mr.Holt. Our own Luke Goodrich explains why in this terrific op-ed. This is what we love to see: Americans united to defend their fundamental freedoms.

We also love to win. This case is just one in a long line of Supreme Court cases that the Becket Fund has been involved with this year.

We have had several victories at the highest court in 2014. Last week I promised you a recap, so here it is!

On New Year’s Eve, just before the clock struck midnight, Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted our clients, the Little Sisters of the Poor, emergency relief from IRS fines that were about to start that next day. That meant that the Little Sisters no longer had to face devastating fines for simply sticking to their beliefs.

Then in March, as it snowed in DC, we went before the Supreme Court to argue our Hobby Lobby case against the contraceptive mandate.

Also in March, one of the Becket Fund’s senior lawyers, Mark Rienzi, won the most important free speech case of the year, McCullen v. Coakley, in a stunning 9-0 decision. Mark started this case seven years ago, before coming to Becket, and he followed it through all the way to the Supreme Court.

Two months later, in May, the Supreme Court granted a victory in Town of Greece v. Galloway. We filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case. What the Court decided, in a nutshell, was that it was fine for legislatures to continue a timeless American tradition—to pray before a legislative session without government censorship.

And of course, June was a huge month for us. We won the landmark Hobby Lobby case, defending the Greens and their family business. The Greens will be able to continue to treat their over 25,000 employees well—paying more than twice the minimum wage, closing on Sundays, and providing insurance covering the 16 FDA-approved contraceptives that most women use but not having to pay for four drugs and devices the government itself admits will prevent implantation.

After we won in Hobby Lobby, that next week the Court also granted emergency relief from the contraceptive mandate IRS fines to our clients, Wheaton College and Eternal Word Television Network.

To win at the Supreme Court requires an immense amount of hard work, expertise, energy, creativity, and knowledge. We are confident we have the right team to fight for freedom and we very much appreciate your investment in it.
Sincerely,

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

P.S. Update on Little Sisters of the Poor: We have been hard at work continuing to defend this order of Catholic nuns against the unjust mandate. Their case goes to the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver on December 8. Stay tuned for more updates on their case, and the other HHS non-profit cases. If you have yet to see the amazing video about their work, please take 3 minutes to watch it here.

Defending Prisoners’ Religious Rights

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Dear Friends,

You might be surprised to hear that growing a ½ inch beard is controversial. At least, it is if you do it for religious reasons in an Arkansas prison.

Abdul Muhammad is an Arkansas inmate. He wants to grow a short beard, according to the commands of his Muslim faith. The Arkansas prison allows inmates to grow beards for other, non-religious reasons, including medical ones.

Yet, Mr. Muhammad’s simple request, based on his religious convictions, has been denied.

Mr. Muhammad’s beard would be allowed in 44 other state and federal prisons across the country. Arkansas, however, will not allow it.

This is a clear violation of Mr. Muhammad’s rights.

The Becket Fund has stepped in to defend them. Our case, Holt v. Hobbs, has made it all the way to the highest court in the land. Today, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case.

This case rests on the essential understanding that prisoners, too, have a right to religious freedom.

Not only is this right protected by our Constitution, but Congress specifically enacted a landmark statute to protect prisoners’ religious rights in 2000.

Under President Clinton, and with massive bipartisan support, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA protects prisoners’ right to peaceful religious expressions, defending their inherent human right to seek God.

Prisoners surrender many of their physical rights when they enter prison. But they do not need to surrender their humanity.

Securing prisoners’ human dignity is important in itself, but it also has practical benefits. In fact, protecting prisoners’ right to religious expression has proven to be an incredibly useful tool in rehabilitation. According to the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, there is a visible 12% drop in re-incarceration rates when prisoners exercise their faith.

That alone is a great reason to support religious freedom among prisoners. And if you want to see proof of the effect religious exercise can have on prisoners, watch this video. You will be moved by these men’s stories.

The Becket Fund is committed to defending the religious liberty rights of all Americans.