Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
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|Headquarters||1200 New Hampshire Avenue NW Washington D.C. 20036|
|Major practice areas||Religious freedom and other First Amendment cases|
|Key people||William P. Mumma (President & Chairman of the Board), Kristina Arriaga (Executive Director)|
|Founder||Kevin "Seamus" Hasson (President Emeritus)|
|Company type||Non-profit organization|
|Slogan||Defending the religious rights of people from “A to Z,” from Anglicans to Zoroastrians|
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that describes itself as "a non-profit, public interest law firm defending the freedom of religion of people of all faiths." The Becket Fund promotes accommodationism and is active in the judicial system, the media, and in education.
History and Leadership of the Becket Fund
The Becket Fund was founded in 1994 by Kevin Hasson, who had previously worked at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department and the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly, in which capacity he became well-known and controversial for defending Catholic University's decision to fire Charles Curran for his opposition to Church doctrine despite his being a respected moral theologian. Hasson named The Becket Fund after Saint Thomas Becket, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170 during the reign of King Henry II of England. A long series of quarrels with King Henry ended with Becket's murder and martyrdom at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. His last words were an acceptance of death in defense of the church of Christ.
In 2011 Hasson stepped down as President of the Becket Fund, making way for William P. Mumma who has since served as the President and Chairman of the Board. Kristina Arriaga, who was the Executive Director of the Becket Fund starting in 2010 and a member of the firm since 1995,  is now a "Senior Advisor to the Board." Montse Alvarado, who started with Becket in 2009, replaced Arriaga as Executive Director in 2017.
As of 2014, the Fund had eleven litigating attorneys, and an estimated budget of five million dollars. The firm operates as a non-profit.
The Fund's stated mission is to "protect the free expression of all religious traditions." Clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. The organization maintains that "freedom of religion is a basic human right that no government may lawfully deny; it is not a gift of the state, but instead is rooted in the inherent dignity of the human person. Religious expression (of all traditions) is a natural part of life in a free society, and religious arguments (on all sides of a question) are a normal and healthy element of public debate. Religious people and institutions are entitled to participate in public life on an equal basis with everyone else, and should not be excluded for professing their faith."
Supreme Court cases
The Becket Fund has served as counsel at the Supreme Court for three religious freedom cases since 2012 starting with Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012). As a result of the case, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled (9-0) in favor of the ministerial exception doctrine for the first time, which exempts religious institutions from anti-discrimination laws in hiring employees.
They also served as counsel to the plaintiffs in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.(2014) in their fight to exempt themselves from having to pay for four different drugs and devices they deemed as abortifacients. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby asserting that family owned businesses have a right to operate in accordance with their conscience.
The most recent case the Becket Fund has litigated at the Supreme Court was Holt v. Hobbs (2015). A Muslim inmate in the Arkansas prison system wanted to grow a beard according to his faith. When he was denied his request he wrote a petition to the Supreme Court asking to hear his case. The Court agreed to take on the case and the Becket Fund represented Mr. Holt, citing that the denial of the plaintiff's right to grow his beard according to his faith is a clear violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The Supreme Court would later unanimously rule in support of Mr. Holt.
The Becket Fund has also filed petitions to the Supreme Court in two cases involving the United States Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate on employer-paid health insurance coverage of contraception, which had at the time been consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, and Houston Baptist University and East Baptist University v. Burwell.
The Becket Fund's Supreme Court litigation has also extended to other cases, most recently filing amicus briefs in Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015), Sac & Fox Nation v. Borough of Jim Thorpe (2015) EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores (2015).
Other litigation activities
The Becket Fund has represented groups and persons from many different religious traditions; its Founder Kevin Hasson has been quoted as saying that the Becket Fund defends the “religious rights of people from ‘A to Z,’ from Anglicans to Zoroastrians.”
Notable clients include the nation's oldest Hindu temple, the Hindu Temple Society of North America, in Flushing, New York City, Prison Fellowship International, Muslim students in Richardson, Texas, seeking to pray the dhuhr prayer on the campus of Lloyd V. Berkner High School, and a Zen Buddhist silent meditation center in New York state that neighbors claimed would make too much noise.
The Becket Fund represented Sacramento-area public school students who sought to continue reciting the current form of the Pledge of Allegiance (including the words "under God") in Newdow v. Carey, the second case brought by Michael Newdow seeking to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. The Becket Fund also represented intervenors in the challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance in Hanover, New Hampshire public schools. Both cases were resolved in favor of the current Pledge language.
Most recently the Becket Fund helped the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in New Jersey. A group of atheists challenged the words "under God" who considered the phrase a violation of the Establishment Clause. The case was taken to the Superior Court of New Jersey where the phrase "under God" was once again ruled constitutional. The atheist group did not appeal.
The Becket Fund has also litigated on behalf of prisoners who seek to continue following their beliefs in prison. The Becket Fund has sought to ensure that observant Jewish prisoners are provided with kosher food in every prison in the United States. Currently pending is the case of Moussazadeh v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which seeks kosher food for the Becket Fund's client Max Moussazadeh.
Another significant area of litigation for the Becket Fund has been religious land use. The Becket Fund brought the first case under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and has been involved with RLUIPA litigation throughout the United States.
The Becket Fund advocates on behalf of religious liberty in international fora. It has represented Muslim clients in the European Court of Human Rights, and has assisted in pre-litigation and litigation in Europe, Asia, and Australia. As a non-governmental organisation in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the Becket Fund has also made annual presentations on religious liberty issues of concern at meetings of United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006, at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Becket Fund also operates the Becket Institute, an academic center focusing on religious liberty issues.
The Becket Fund has been a strong opponent of the concept of "defamation of religion" as it has been presented at the United Nations and elsewhere. The Becket Fund has argued that protecting religions against defamation puts governments in the position of deciding which religious concepts are valid and thus worthy of protection, and would lead to the suppression of both religious and non-religious speech.
The Canterbury Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the Becket Fund. It recognizes those individuals who have demonstrated courage in the defense of religious liberty and is named for Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas Becket was martyred by the knights of King Henry II for his own defense of religious freedom. The Canterbury Medal is thus given annually to one "who has resolutely and publicly refused to render to Caesar that which is God's." It was established in 1997 and has been awarded annually beginning in that year.
The Canterbury Medal Dinner honors the past year's medalist and also serves as a venue for the work of The Becket Fund to shine. The dinner is prominently attended by religious leaders of all faiths as well as by a wide variety of public figures and members of the press.
Religious liberty resources
In addition to these activities, the Becket Fund provides resources for the public and other civil rights attorneys. For example, it operates resource websites about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the freedom to preach without fear of censorship or IRS retribution, the Blaine Amendments, and religious liberty in Sri Lanka. It also provides continuing legal studies courses in cooperation with West Legal EdCenter.
This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (January 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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- The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – official webpage