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Archive for January 2015

Supreme Court Tells The Government It Cannot Limit You

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dear Friend,

As a teenager, nothing made me angrier than when my parents attempted to justify a decision—with which I justly disagreed—by merely saying, “because I said so.”

(I must confess, though, that I have found myself using the phrase to end those maddening, useless, exasperating arguments with my three teenagers more times than I’d like to admit. I hope those of you with teenagers will not judge me too harshly!)

All joking aside, this is precisely the tactic the government attempted when it denied our client, Mr. Muhammad, a request to grow a beard in keeping with his religious faith. As their reasons for denying his request quickly fell apart in court, they essentially justified their decision to restrict his religious exercise on the “because we said so” argument.

It’s almost unbelievable that the government could win on such transparent, baseless grounds—yet, they did, in the lower courts.

I was stunned. This is not the kind of power our government wields, nor should it ever claim to have this kind of power. To do so even once puts freedom at risk for all of us.

When the Becket Fund took Mr. Muhammad’s case to the Supreme Court for oral argument in November, the government cited security concerns for denying his request. Yet, it quickly became clear that they did not have a shred of evidence to back up any of these so-called “security concerns.” Moreover, over 40 other states already allowed prisoners to grow beards for various reasons, and security was not an issue for these systems.

Even more ludicrous was the state of Arkansas’ argument that Mr. Muhammad was already allowed to be religious enough. I’m not kidding—they argued: since he already had a prayer rug and other items to practice his faith, why did he also need to grow the beard? In other words, Arkansas wanted to decide that some parts of Mr. Muhammad’s faith were important, while others were not.

This would be like telling a Roman Catholic that, since he has a rosary, he doesn’t need a Bible. Or telling someone practicing Judaism that, since he has access to kosher food, he doesn’t need access to a rabbi. Or telling an Evangelical that, since he has the New Testament, he doesn’t need the Old Testament.

Absurd, right?

Since when does the government get to decide what parts of our faith should be allowed and what parts are “unreasonable?” The answer is: since never. It is very clear in our Constitution, as well as in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), that the government does not get to intervene in such matters unless it has an incredibly important reason to do so.

Religious freedom, after all, is not the eccentric uncle of the human rights family.

It is simply too fundamental a right to be treated lightly by the government. It is a right that belongs to all of us. That’s why, under U.S. law, all religions are treated the same way. The government does not get to pick favorites.

This is also why last week’s Supreme Court victory for Mr. Muhammad represents a victory for every single American. The 9-0 decision affirmed the boundaries for the government’s role.

The government has to have real reasons to interfere in our lives. The government does not get to tell us which of our beliefs are reasonable or unreasonable. The government does not get to pick favorites.

All Americans should agree on this. And it seems that most do! We had a remarkable show of unified support for this case, with friend-of-the-court briefs filed by organizations spanning the political and religious divides.

And just as the case encouraged such broad support, the Supreme Court’s decision met with a huge wave of media attention. Our win was featured in major newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Deseret News, the LA Times, and the Washington Post—to name only a few! I include links in my P.S.

But, my favorite has to be last Friday’s USA Today, in which my colleague, Eric Rassbach, makes the point so very beautifully by saying: “When it comes to American law, no religion is an island. Because our laws treat all religions equally, the “rigorous standard” proclaimed by the Supreme Court protecting Muhammad’s religious liberty also protects the religious liberty of churches, synagogues and religious individuals across the country.”

It was a wonderful week for freedom. And I want to thank you for your support.

This case, like all of our cases, demanded that our attorneys devote themselves brilliantly to our cause. And they did. They are, as I am, grateful for your support.

Now that I feel so energized by this win, I think I’ll spend some time thinking of better justifications for saying “no” to my kids than “because I said so.” But I make no promises.

Kristina Arriaga

Support the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Dear Brother Knight,

The U.S. House of Representatives will soon vote on H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This important measure will ban abortions on unborn children aged 20 weeks post-fertilization or older, based upon substantial medical evidence finding that these unborn children can experience pain. With H.R. 36, Congress will exercise its authority to protect these unborn children from abortion, and the horrible pain that it causes.

However, while a vote has been scheduled, successful passage of H.R. 36 is not assured. H.R. 36 needs your personal support. Please click here to contact your elected congressional representatives today. Ask them to support H.R. 36 with their vote. Be sure to also contact your Senators and ask them to introduce and cosponsor the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the U.S. Senate. If you will be in Washington for the upcoming March for Life, be sure to also personally visit your representatives in Congress and urge them to support this bill. Encourage your family and friends to do the same.

At the 131st Supreme Convention in San Antonio, we resolved to “speak out to our elected representatives about the need to enact legislation…to protect human life.” With the upcoming vote on H.R. 36, it is more important than ever that Congress hears your voice.

Thank you for all you do to promote a Culture of Life.

Knights of Columbus

A Victory For All Americans!

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Dear Friends,

I was very moved to learn that in our most recent Supreme Court case, Justice Alito reviewed a handwritten petition by an inmate who wanted to grow a beard according to the dictates of his Muslim faith.​

I can’t imagine that elegant acknowledgement of human dignity any place else. In fact, one of the many things I love about this great country of ours is that both our court system and our government are obliged to treat everyone with dignity. This is true even if the person appearing before court has been previously convicted and is serving a sentence.

Prison officials told our client, Mr. Holt, that he could not grow his beard because of security concerns—even though they allowed inmates to grow beards for medical reasons, and even though 43 other state prison systems would have allowed Mr. Holt’s beard.

There was simply no good reason for Mr. Holt’s beard to be prohibited.

That’s why the Becket Fund stepped in. We argued that the restriction on Mr. Holt was arbitrary and amounted to a violation of his religious exercise. We took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing in front of the nine Justices in October.

Now, I am pleased to announce that, today, the Supreme Court granted us a unanimous, 9-0, victory!

The Court affirmed the Becket Fund’s argument that, though prisoners surrender many of their physical rights, they do not surrender their human dignity. “What the Supreme Court said today was that government officials cannot impose arbitrary restrictions on religious liberty just because they think government knows best,” said Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund.

It is encouraging to see the Court make the right decision on this case. What is equally encouraging is the overwhelming amount of support for this case—support that bridges political and religious divides.

More than 50 groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting our client. These included briefs from religious denominations, prison security experts, and civil rights groups. Among the religious denominations and groups who filed briefs were Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Protestants, and Catholics.

This broad support reminds me of the bipartisan support for an important act passed in Congress in 2000—in fact, the very act that our legal arguments rested on.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) was passed unanimously and signed by President Clinton. It protects prisoners against arbitrary restrictions on their religious exercise, and it is the reason our client, Mr. Holt, will be able to peacefully express his religion by growing a ½ inch beard.

The right to religious freedom goes beyond the bars of any prison—it is an essential human right that comes before and goes beyond any government authority.

It speaks to the strength of our nation when we can come together, despite our differences of belief, and protect that right for someone else.

I am proud of this case, proud of the many organizations that filed in support of Mr. Holt, and proud of our nation’s founding principles of liberty.

I look forward to sharing many more victories with you in 2015!

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

Celebrate Religious Freedom Day!

TheBecketFund for religious liberty

A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dear Friends,

As you know, I grew up in a household that was extraordinarily committed to protecting individual freedom. Since my parents had arrived to this country after escaping Castro’s dictatorship, we were always watchful of affronts to freedom and keen to celebrate and be proud of America’s great legacy.

So, it is with great fanfare that I will be celebrating Religious Freedom Day on January 16.

As you may know, on January 16, 1786, the state of Virginia passed into law the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia statute reads, in part: “that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

This statute provided the basis for our national Constitution and the First Amendment protecting religious freedom. And Jefferson’s words are as powerful today as they were 229 years ago.

They affirm the truth that real, authentic liberty includes first and foremost liberty of thought and expression. Without that liberty, we cannot be truly free.

I firmly believe this, especially after my time working with political defectors and victims of tyranny. One of the most powerful individuals I have ever known was a man who maintained his freedom of thought under some of the harshest conditions imaginable.

His story—and many others—inspired me to the work I do today at the Becket Fund.

The Becket Fund exists to protect our most precious and fundamental freedom: the freedom to seek truth and act upon our deeply held beliefs.

We defend this right for all Americans, and for people of all faiths. We defend this right every day.

We defend the right of a prisoner to grow a ½ inch beard as part of his religious practice.

We defend the right of a Catholic order of nuns to maintain their core beliefs—without threats of severe fines from the IRS.

We defend the right of pharmacists not to dispense drugs they find morally objectionable.

We defend the right of local governments to make state-funded textbook programs available to students, regardless of where they go to school.

We defend the right of a Native American pastor to obtain and use eagle feathers for religious purposes.

We defend the right of a New Jersey teenager to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God,” affirming that her rights come from something higher than the government.

We defend all of these individuals, and many more. And we do this because we believe what our nation’s founders believed: that because the religious impulse is natural to human beings, religious expression is natural to human culture.

Every day is Religious Freedom Day for the Becket Fund.

But I am grateful that now, on National Religious Freedom Day, all Americans can celebrate and express gratitude for the legacy of religious freedom left us by our nation’s founders.
Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director