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Gitmo Detainees: Religious 'Rights' For Corporations But Not People?

Men held in Guantánamo file suits declaring that if Hobby Lobby has religious "rights," they should too

Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons / DangApricot)

If the the highest U.S. court says the corporation Hobby Lobby is an entity that deserves religious rights, what about the actual people being held in indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba?

So argue lawsuits filed last week on behalf of Emad Hassan from Pakistan and Ahmed Rabbani from Yemen, who have been held at this notorious offshore prison without charge or trial since 2002.

In the emergency motions, the men charge that prison authorities are denying them the right to participate in communal tarawih prayers during the ongoing 2014 holy month of Ramadan due to their participation in a hunger strike. According to the petitions, this practice is not new but continues from 2013 Ramadan, during which prison authorities forced men to stop hunger striking in order to participate in communal prayers.

"The fact that Petitioner is engaged in a peaceful hunger strike should not deprive him of his religious free exercise rights," the motions read.

While U.S. courts had previously ruled that people held at Guantánamo Bay do not have religious rights because they are not "persons" with respect to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the petitioners argue that this month's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling highlights that those decisions "are not good law."

The controversial Hobby Lobby decision ruled that an employer can refuse contraception to workers under the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of religious objection—outraging public health and reproductive justice advocates across the United States.

The petitioners argue, "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."

“Having held my clients without charge or trial for a dozen years, the authorities at Gitmo are now trying to break their will by denying even the most basic religious liberty – the right to pray with others of their faith," said Cori Crider, attorney for the men and a director at human rights organization Reprieve, in a statement released Tuesday.

The petitions are the latest in a litany of accusations that people held in Guantánamo are denied their most basic human and religious rights.

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. government to respond by the end of the day Tuesday, and a court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

"I look forward to the Obama Administration’s explanation of why, if Hobby Lobby is a person with religious rights, a Guantánamo detainee isn’t," Crider added.


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