Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Headquarters 1200 New Hampshire Ave NW Washington D.C. 20036
Coordinates 38°54′08″N 77°03′36″W / 38.902291°N 77.060104°W / 38.902291; -77.060104
Official language

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 operates in three arenas: in the courts of law (litigation), in the court of public opinion (media), and in the academy (scholarship).

The Becket 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."[2]

Litigation activities[edit]

The Becket Fund has represented groups and persons from many different religious traditions in litigation, pre-litigation, and appeals, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Santeros, Sikhs, and 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 was counsel for the Petitioner church in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. As a result of the case, the United States Supreme Court recognized for the first time the ministerial exception doctrine. They also served as the counsel to Hobby Lobby in its case to be exempt from covering drugs it viewed to be abortifacients. Among cases they have currently slated to be heard by the Supreme Court is one in which they represent a Muslim prison inmate seeking the right to grow a beard.[3]

Previous clients also included the City of Cranston[4] in the attempt to preserve the Prayer Banner at Cranston High School West.

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.[5] Both cases were resolved in favor of the current Pledge language.

Another Becket Fund client is a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee that was denied the right to use its building by a local court after complaints that the mosque was promoting terrorism.[6]

Among the Becket Fund's governmental clients have been the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, the city of Jersey City, New Jersey, and Spartanburg County School District No. 7.

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. The Becket Fund is also representing a prisoner seeking kosher dietary accommodations from the Florida Department of Corrections.

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.[7]

The Becket Fund has also represented a number of amici curiae at the United States Supreme Court in appeals related to religious liberty, including various civil and religious liberties organizations, such as the American Jewish Congress, the Hindu American Foundation, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, United Sikhs, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way.

International activities[edit]

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.[8] 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.

Religious liberty resources[edit]

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.

Organizational history[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Hasson named The Becket Fund after Thomas Becket, who was murdered in 1170 by the knights of King Henry II of England, after a possible misunderstanding and a long series of altercations and events between the English monarch and state, the papacy, other clergy and Becket.

In January 2007, Becket Fund Vice President and General Counsel Anthony Picarello, Jr. was named by American Lawyer magazine as one of the fifty most promising young litigators in the United States.[9] Picarello became General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in late September 2007.

William P. Mumma has served at the President and Chairman of the Board for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty since 2011.[10]

Canterbury Medal[edit]

The Canterbury Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the Becket Fund.[11][12] It recognizes those individuals who have demonstrated courage in the defense of religious liberty and is named for Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas à Becket was martyred by the knights of King Henry II for his own defense of religious freedom.[13] The Canterbury Medal is thus given annually to one "who has resolutely and publicly refused to render to Caesar that which is God's."[14] It was established in 1997 and has been awarded annually beginning in that year.[14]

The Canterbury Medal Dinner honors the year's medalist and also serves as a place where the work of The Becket Fund shines.[14] 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.[13]



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