Baptists, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists and Jews rarely agree on anything, but representatives of all of those groups are working together on a closely-watched court case that involves the religious rights of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Monday, in a decision applauded by all of those groups, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the four former detainees deserve another day in court to make their case against the federal government, which they claim tortured them and denied them their rights to practice their religion.
The four British Muslims, who were captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo for two years, were released without charges. They claim that during their detention their beards were shaved, their daily prayers were banned or interrupted, copies of the Koran and prayer mats were denied to them, and one copy of the Koran was thrown in a toilet bucket in their presence.
Their case hinges, in part, on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that the “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled against the men, an opinion that included a fascinating nine-page discussion on the Constitutional definition of a “person.”
“We believe that RFRA’s use of ‘person’ should be interpreted consistently with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of ‘person’ in the Fifth Amendment and ‘people’ in the Fourth Amendment to exclude non-resident aliens,” the appellate court said. “Because the plaintiffs are aliens and were located outside sovereign United States territory at the time their alleged RFRA claim arose, they do not fall with the definition of ‘person.’
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court threw that ruling out and ordered the appellate court to review the case in light of a ruling earlier this year that Guantanamo detainees do have some constitutional rights as persons. Christian and Jewish religious groups who filed briefs in the case on behalf of the four Muslim men applauded Monday’s ruling.
Other groups that joined the case included the American Jewish Committee, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
It’s encouraging that those varied religious groups would agree on any issue, but especially on a truth as self-evident as who qualifies as a person.