Guantanamo Detainees Cite Hobby Lobby Ruling in Religious Liberty Case

Written by Jack Jenkins

Lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay prisoners are now invoking the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that if corporations are allowed to have religious rights, so should detainees.

The motions, which were filed in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen, asked the court to end the military’s policy of denying Gitmo prisoners the right to observe communal prayer during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Two separate courts have previously upheld restrictions on the religious expression of prisoners, arguing that Gitmo detainees are nonresident aliens and thus did not qualify as “persons” under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). But the new filing points out that this position is inconsistent with last week’s Supreme Court ruling, which granted religious rights to a corporate “person” — Hobby Lobby — under RFRA.

“Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons—human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien—enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA,” the filing reads. “Guantanamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and-blood human beings, are surely ‘individuals,’ and thus are no less ‘person[s]‘ than are the for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby or the resident noncitizens whom Hobby Lobby gives as an example of persons to whom the RFRA must apply.”

“Thus, Hobby Lobby puts it beyond reasonable dispute that, as ‘person[s]‘ protected by the RFRA, Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoy rights of religious free exercise, including the right to pray in congregation.”

Guantanamo Bay prisoners have frequently complained about a lack of respect for their religious rights at the facility. In 2005, detainees accused guards of flushing a Qur’an down a toilet, a claim U.S. officials later denied, although they admitted to some “mishandling” of the Muslim holy book. Hunger strikes have also been a recurring issue at the prison since 2005, with some prisoners refusing food to protest what they claim is their wrongful imprisonment and regular disruptions of their religious traditions, such as daily prayers. In June of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissedcase filed on behalf of detainees who claimed that guards inflicted “religious humiliation” on them — such as the shaving their beards and desecrating their Qur’ans — even after a military panel found the prisoners not to be “enemy combatants.”

As for the new case, it remains to be seen whether judges will be swayed by the lawyer’s line of reasoning, especially given that courts tend to defer to the military’s own justice system in such cases. Still, the case highlights the rapidly changing legal landscape around issues of religious liberty and corporate personhood, and exposes the ever-increasing scope of cases to which the Hobby Lobby decision might apply. It also highlights the awkward position in which the court has now positioned itself. In her blistering dissent of last week’s ruling, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that the Hobby Lobby decision likely forces the court to take on the uncomfortable — and possibly constitutionally dubious — task of deciding whose religious claims “count,” which runs the risk of violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on “establishing” one religious tradition over others.

“Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘Risk the establishment clause was trying to preclude,’” Ginsburg wrote, quoting previous court decisions. “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield … by its immoderate reading of RFRA.”

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Kathleen T. Rhem via Wikipedia


Christine Jones
Christine J3 years ago

Fascinating how people who in their own countries stringently and violently deny people religious freedom to the point of imprisoning, beating, and publicly executing them, are suddenly deeply concerned with their own right to freedom of religious expression. The phrase "Do unto others" springs to mind.

Kathie Turo
Katherine Krus3 years ago

I started a petition to demand the resignation of the justices who do have added discrimination into the constitution. Tell the government we won’t stand as a society to compromise one group of peoples rights for anthers. Religious freedom does not trump women’s rights.

Everyone please share with others, if we get 100,000 signatures the government has to acknowledge that the justices have gone down a bad path / by protecting one class of people they are hurting 51% of the populations freedoms. SIGN HERE TODAY, we need !
(if follow a link on a site freaks you out, visit the we the people site / and search for hobby lobby)

Carole L.
Carole L3 years ago

Martha F
“Let me clarify my position. While we have a moral and ethical obligation to respect anothers belief system I don't see how non citizens can use our laws to enforce their rights because they have no rights under our laws.”

Geneva Conventions;

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Only an issue when it plays well, one learns from the other.

Martha Ferris
Martha Ferris3 years ago

Let me clarify my position. While we have a moral and ethical obligation to respect anothers belief system I don't see how non citizens can use our laws to enforce their rights because they have no rights under our laws.

Anita Breitner
Anita B3 years ago

That Hobby Lobby decision was a drop in the pond....the ripples are widening....meeting other ripples caused by other drops....getting bigger and deeper...when is the tsunami?

Martha Ferris
Martha Ferris3 years ago

Karen H.- I hope it is an extra big bite.
Are these people residents of the United States? We have no law that I am aware of insuring freedom of religion for residents of other countries.

Nikolas K.
Nikolas K3 years ago

What people need to realise that in the 10 century AD Pope Bonface ruled all humanity belong to the church so birth certicifates /registration was established which corparised us as a corporation which could be traded on the stock market. So this is why we are no different to the corporations we work for. Human beings who do not have a birth certificate /register in the old days were killed if they did not adopt one of the myriad of religions and signed up on a birth certificate. This is why America and Israel are determined to take on Muslims who do not follow this practice as the banksters cannot make money out of them on the stock market. This is their hidden agenda.

Tim L.
Tim L3 years ago

What's wrong with these Gitmo Detainees? Are they crazy? The Supremacist Court, in the citizens united case, ruled that corporations are people. Now, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Court again legislated from the bench that corporations have freedom of religion and Corporate Religious Beliefs must be adhered to by everyone, regardless of an individual's religious beliefs or lack thereof. So you folks in Gitmo are going to have to shut-up until you become a corporation with Reich-wing Christian values. Case closed!

ERIKA S3 years ago

thank you for the article