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October 13, 2014 0

Supreme Court Inmate Beard Case Illustrates True Purpose Of Federal Free Exercise Laws

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argu­ments in a case (Holt v. Hobbs) brought by an obser­vant Mus­lim inmate chal­leng­ing an Arkansas Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions (“DOC”) pol­icy bar­ring beards worn for reli­gious rea­sons.  ADL had joined a friend-of-the-court-brief filed by a coali­tion of reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions in sup­port of the inmate.   Given the facts of the case, the ques­tions and answers at oral argu­ment, and the Court’s overly broad read­ing of a fed­eral law sim­i­lar to the one at issue in this case, there likely are five jus­tices who will side with the inmate.holt-v-hobbs

Forty state prison sys­tems allow inmates to wear beards with­out lim­i­ta­tion, and another three allow beards with some lim­i­ta­tions.  But the DOC pro­hibits inmates from wear­ing half-inch beards for reli­gious reasons.

The inmate – Gre­gory Holt – chal­lenged the beard pol­icy under the Reli­gious Land Use and Insti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act (“RLUIPA”).   It is sis­ter leg­is­la­tion to the Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (“RFRA”), the law at issue in the trou­bling Hobby Lobby deci­sion where the Court found that the Afford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date “sub­stan­tially” bur­dened the reli­gious exer­cise of a for-profit cor­po­ra­tion.  Both statutes apply strict scrutiny – the most robust con­sti­tu­tional stan­dard – when neu­tral laws or gov­ern­ment rules sig­nif­i­cantly bur­den reli­gious exercise.

At the argu­ment, DOC’s attor­ney jus­ti­fied the beard pol­icy based on pris­oner misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion and hid­den con­tra­band con­cerns.  But he could not cite to an exam­ple of either.  The attor­ney also had dif­fi­culty explain­ing why the Court should give def­er­ence to the pol­icy when inmates are per­mit­ted to have quarter-inch beards for med­ical rea­sons, wear their hair to the mid­dle of the neck, and grow Afros with­out lim­i­ta­tion, all of which arguably could pose the same concerns.

This case reflects the true pur­pose of both RLUIPA and RFRA: to shield reli­gion from gov­ern­ment bur­dens — not detri­men­tally impos­ing reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers as was the case in Hobby Lobby.  Based on DOC’s fail­ure to show a mate­r­ial effect on prison secu­rity, the Court should find in favor of Mr. Holt.  Allow­ing him to wear a short beard upholds his reli­gious lib­erty with­out impos­ing his faith on or caus­ing harm to others.

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October 8, 2014 0

Gun Range Owner’s Offensive Ban on Muslim Patrons is Unlawful

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Jan Mor­gan

Cit­ing to pub­lic safety con­cerns stem­ming from the 9/11 attacks and a recent Okla­homa work­place behead­ing, Arkansas gun range owner Jan Mor­gan last week pub­licly declared her busi­ness a “Muslim-Free zone.”  Although this odi­ous and unlaw­ful dec­la­ra­tion has been removed from her Face­book page, a mes­sage on Morgan’s Twit­ter account states that the rule still stands.

In a dia­tribe jus­ti­fy­ing her deci­sion,  Mor­gan wrongly claims that Islam is not a reli­gion.   And there­fore, she erro­neously con­cludes that Mus­lims are not enti­tled to First Amend­ment guar­an­tees of reli­gious free­dom.  Mor­gan also falsely asserts that she has the option to bar Mus­lim patrons from her gun range.  But this ban bla­tantly vio­lates the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, which  pro­hibits  “… any estab­lish­ment, either licensed of unli­censed, that sup­plies … ser­vices to gen­eral pub­lic … “ from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against a per­son “… because of … religion.”

Later admit­ting that the anti-Muslim ban dis­re­gards the law,  Mor­gan nonethe­less declared  that she “will do what­ever is nec­es­sary to pro­vide a safe envi­ron­ment for my cus­tomers, even at the cost of the increased threats and legal prob­lems this deci­sion will likely pro­voke.”  Although she relies on the Sec­ond Amend­ment to remain in busi­ness, Mor­gan wants to ignore fed­eral and state Equal Pro­tec­tion Clause prin­ci­ples cod­i­fied in anti-discrimination laws.  Pick­ing and choose among legal pro­tec­tions is sim­ply not an option in our nation of laws, and Mor­gan would be wise to revoke her offen­sive ban against Mus­lim patrons.

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October 7, 2014 1

Anti-Immigrant Groups Call For Immigration Bans Following Ebola Scare

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Jes­sica Vaughan

As news broke of the first per­son inside the U.S. diag­nosed with the deadly Ebola virus, anti-immigrant groups seized the oppor­tu­nity to use this infor­ma­tion as a way to speak out against “mass immi­gra­tion.” Over the past month, anti-immigrant groups used the same tac­tic when attempt­ing to bring the ter­ror­ist group ISIS into the immi­gra­tion debate.

In an inter­view with the Daily Caller, Jes­sica Vaughan, the pol­icy direc­tor of the anti-immigrant think tank Cen­ter for Immi­gra­tion Stud­ies (CIS) argued that Africans will try to come to the United States for treat­ment. She attempted to back up this claim by equat­ing Ebola patients with unac­com­pa­nied minors flee­ing vio­lence in Cen­tral Amer­i­can and seek­ing refuge in the United States, claim­ing both are try­ing “to take advan­tage” of U.S. bor­der pol­icy. Vaughan has made prior big­oted state­ments about immi­grants. In 2008 Vaughan claimed, “One legacy of TPS (Tem­po­rary Pro­tected Sta­tus for refugees) has been its con­tri­bu­tion to the bur­geon­ing street gang prob­lem in the United States.”

Vaughan’s col­league, Mark Kriko­rian, con­tin­ued the argu­ment in a col­umn for National Review Online, titled, “Ban Travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—Now.” In the col­umn, Kriko­rian again voiced his oppo­si­tion to Mus­lim immi­gra­tion to the United States, stat­ing, “Why has the gov­ern­ment per­mit­ted the num­ber of Saudi immi­grants in the U.S. to dou­ble in just three years?… Why are we going to ‘greatly expand reset­tle­ment for Syr­ian refugees’?”

Anti-immigrant extrem­ists also used the Ebola news as an oppor­tu­nity to call for a reduc­tion to immi­gra­tion. In an Octo­ber 1 arti­cle, Patrick Cle­burne, a writer for the racist web­site VDARE founded by white suprema­cist Peter Brimelow, stated, “My own ques­tion: why does Amer­ica need immi­gra­tion from this famously unhealthy part of the world any­way?” Cle­burne ended his arti­cle by claim­ing the U.S. needs to revisit the Immi­gra­tion and Nation­al­ity Act of 1965, which abol­ished racial quo­tas con­tained in pre­vi­ous immi­gra­tion laws. Also on Octo­ber 1, the Tea Party Immi­gra­tion Coali­tion headed by racist Rick Olt­man posted an arti­cle on its Face­book page about Ebola ask­ing, “Is this how Obama will kill us?”

The anti-immigrant move­ment often paints immi­grants as dis­ease car­ri­ers in an attempt to cre­ate a cli­mate of fear around the issue and call for a restric­tion on immi­gra­tion. Attempt­ing to cap­i­tal­ize of the recent Ebola diag­no­sis is the lat­est exam­ple of this trend.

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