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Portraits of Courage – 25 Years of Defending Freedom for All!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
June 11, 2019

Dear Friends,
Twenty-five years ago, on May 13th, Seamus Hasson saw a threat to religious liberty that few others recognized. In 1993, Congress had passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into being by President Clinton, in a huge display of bipartisan cooperation. Protections for people of faith seemed to be getting stronger. What could go wrong? As it turned out, a lot. Seamus had the acute sense that a storm of religious liberty threats was brewing. He founded the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty exclusively to defend the most fundamental human right—religious liberty—for people of all faiths. Becket would defend religious rights for people from A to Z: Anglican to Zoroastrian.

The last 25 years have proved Seamus’ sixth sense to be correct. The threats to religious freedom have not let up. Becket’s earliest cases included defending a schoolboy’s right to bring his Bible to class and a military chaplain’s right to freely preach. Over the years, Becket has fought for the rights of a faith-based homeless shelter; a Native American’s right to possess eagle feathers; Sikhs’ right to practice their faith and serve in the U.S. military; prisoners’ rights to kosher diets and religiously mandated beards; and Catholic nuns’ right to opt out of an unconstitutional federal mandate. And these are just a sampling of Becket’s many successes.

What’s the common thread? In all its cases, Becket relies on the same sound legal philosophy—an approach so principled, thorough, and consistent that it has remained relevant for two decades and counting. I wish I could say Becket’s work was no longer needed, but it is, critically so. For now, I’ll be grateful for the last 25 years of victories that have strengthened religious freedom for people of all faiths. Thank you for defending religious liberty with Becket!

What’s happening at Becket:

Did you miss the Canterbury Medal Gala? Here’s our recap of the gala that honored U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a man who provides spiritual guidance to our nation’s leaders.

Upholding medical consensus—and common sense. After two different courts struck it down for infringing on religious freedom, the Department of Health and Human Services has officially proposed a fix to its transgender mandate. Under the original regulation, doctors would be forced to perform gender transitions on any patient, even if they thought it would be harmful. Under the proposed new rule, those decisions would remain between doctors and their patients, free of government interference.

Free the feathers. In 2006, an undercover federal agent infiltrated a sacred powwow and confiscated eagle feathers from Native American Pastor Robert Soto. The agent’s authority? A federal rule that prohibits anyone from possessing feathers of protected birds, including eagles. After ten years of litigation and some help from Becket, Pastor Soto got his feathers back. Now, the federal government is considering a petition that would expand religious liberty protections for Native Americans who possess and use eagle feathers in their religious exercise. (For more on Pastor Soto’s story, listen to the Feds and Feathers episode of Becket’s Stream of Conscience podcast.)

Becket in the news:

Hot topic: the polarizing transgender mandate. The Atlantic ran a piece on the controversial transgender mandate and the proposed new rule, featuring a quote from Becket’s Lori Windham: “Now patients can be reassured knowing their doctors are free to follow their best medical judgment.”

Free Exercise vs. Establishment: when lawyering turns political. Becket alum Asma Uddin poses a question: why do some religious liberty lawyers leave strong arguments on the table? Read her take on why some favor Free Exercise arguments and others favor the Establishment Clause—and why it’s their clients who “bear the burden.”

Hypocrisy abounds as politicians drag the Little Sisters of the Poor to court (again). The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman points out the hypocrisy of politicians with dubious pasts claiming moral high ground against the Little Sisters of the Poor on contraception. “For such esteemed public servants, it seems that allowing nuns to decline to provide the week-after pill is simply beyond the pale.”

“I agree with attorneys at the Becket Fund …” Two death row inmates requested to have their own religious leader present at their execution, but only one inmate won at the Supreme Court. The LA Times explains why Becket had the winning approach.

What Becket is reading:

“We need the spiritual.” Deseret News writes up Canterbury medalist Chaplain Black and the compelling story of how he came to be who he is today. Spoiler alert: memorizing scripture saved his life—literally.

Deserving of recognition. WORLD Magazine nods to Chaplain Black and the Canterbury Medal.

When the New York Times mentions Becket. NY Times opinion writer Linda Greenhouse fears that religious liberty protections are turning America “into a theocracy that would have appalled our Founding Fathers.” I don’t think our Founders thought we would be defending the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe Linda’s fears are largely unfounded.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

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