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The Hobby Lobby Decision Could Help Gitmo Detainees

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees say that the Hobby Lobby decision gives their clients the right to pray communally during Ramadan.
Photo by Paul Keller

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision presented itself as a dark cloud with no silver lining when America's highest judicial body asserted that conservative Christian morality held sway over women's bodies.

There is something grimly appropriate, then, that the atrocity of the Hobby Lobby decision provide a ray of hope for prisoners in a central site of US horror — Guantanamo Bay.

Lawyers for two detainees have filed motions asking US courts to block the prevention of inmates taking part in communal prayer during Ramadan, Al Jazeera America (AJAM) reported. The attorneys from human rights group Reprieve specifically cite the Hobby Lobby ruling to state that the detainees' rights should be protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).


According to detainee lawyers, previous court decisions determining that Gitmo detainees do not have "religious free exercise rights" because they are not “persons within the scope of the RFRA" are rendered questionable by the Hobby Lobby decision. If a private corporation can be treated as an entity with rights to religious free exercise, then surely imprisoned people should be accorded the same personhood. "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 lawyers argued in court papers.

NYC's "Little Gitmo" holds terrorism suspects in extreme isolation for years. Read more here.

"Why are the authorities at Guantanamo Bay seeking to punish detainees for hunger striking by curtailing their right to pray? If, under our law, Hobby Lobby is a ‘person’ with a right to religious freedom, surely Gitmo detainees are people too,” Cori Crider, an attorney for the detainees and a director at Reprieve, told AJAM.

The argument has the added benefit of functioning like an ethical troll. If successful, the motion will ensure the detainees' ability to pray communally — a small mercy in the hell of Gitmo. But even if unsuccessful, the motion sheds light on how the abominable SCOTUS decision should not simply apply to Christian conservatism. If, as it purports, America is not a Christian theocracy, then the decision should apply equally to Muslim prisoners and Christian corporate owners.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard

Image via Flickr