Thursday, December 18, 2008

Religious Freedom & Guantanamo

The Washington Post  "On Faith" section has a daily column called "Under God." The latest article looks at a court case involving four British Muslims, held for two years and released uncharged, who claim that they were tortured and denied "their rights to practice their religion." They assert 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 was unanimously rejected by the federal appeals court, but the Supreme Court is giving them another chance to make their case.  The appeals court, among other things, ruled that foreign non-resident detainees are not entitled to the same rights as U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens.

The Post writers are highly sympathetic to the former prisoners, are incredulous about the appeals court reasoning, and tout the fact that various religious groups share their position.

I don't share their views.  Let's pretend that the former prisoners even have a case based on something other than their own unsubstantiated assertions -- a big assumption.  And let's exclude the torture part of their claim, since this article only deals with the religious freedom aspect.  This case is still a complete waste of time and should be dismissed.

First, the appeals court was correct. Non-U.S. citizens do not and should not have the same rights as U.S. citizens.  The idea that they do, because the constitution refers to "people" or "persons" is simply ridiculous.  That notion is even more absurd when applied to presumed hostile aliens captured during wartime.

Then there are the specifics of the claim about being denied the rights to practice their religion. When you are in custody, even if you are a U.S. citizen, your full ability to practice your religion is going to be restricted.  There are dress and hygiene requirements in prison.  You don't get to have all the ceremonial implements you might think you need.  If your religion requires you to sacrifice a goat every Tuesday morning, is the prison going to provide you with a goat and a knife? Prisons have schedules, and prisoners aren't free to do whatever they want.  If you think you need to pray at a fixed time, it's likely that you might be interrupted occasionally.  If your prayers are loud, disruptive or otherwise irritating, they might be banned.  

All of the allegations in the claim can be easily understood as reasonable restrictions on religious practice based on prison conditions.  The Koran in the toilet incident, if it even occurred, was a an alleged trivial single occurence in a two year span and is therefore irrelevant -- especially since we don't know the circumstances. This "religious freedom" case is a frivolous suit based on shaky claims of constitutional rights that don't even exist for the persons in question.

As an aside, there is a hilarious quotation in the article by J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, and one of the Washington Post's "On Faith" panelists.  

When anyone's God-given religious freedom is denied, everyone's is threatened
Religious freedom is "God-given"?  Really?  Which god is in favor of religious freedom? Mr. Walker might want to read back through the bible and see what his god has to say about the practice of other religions.  He can start witih "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3.  

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