Gitmo Detainees Cite Hobby Lobby in Ramadan Prayer Petition

By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 09, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two Guantanamo Bay detainees are citing the recent Hobby Lobby case in an unusual way -- to press for their right to communal prayer during Ramadan.

Last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court expounded on closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby and their rights to religious freedoms as "persons." Mother Jones reports that two Gitmo detainees, Ahmed Rabbani and Emad Hassan, are hoping to use this expansion of religious rights to prevent military officials from prohibiting communal prayer during the holy month of Ramadan, which is currently underway.

If a company is a "person" with religious rights, what about detainees at Gitmo?

Status of Gitmo Detainees

President Barack Obama has vowed to close Gitmo since the beginning of his first term, yet it's 2014 and Guantanamo Bay is still open. Some of the detainees held at the facility have been there for nearly a decade, with habeas petitions having mixed success in changing the situation.

The strange "enemy combatant" status of these Gitmo detainees has excluded them from many of the rights and privileges typically given to U.S. residents. In a 2009, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that these detainees were not protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which allows persons to sue the government for burdens on the exercise of religion.

Why? The D.C. Circuit determined that nonresident alien detainees were not "persons" for the purpose of RFRA. This is where the detainees make novel use of the recent Hobby Lobby decision and ask: Why are Gitmo detainees not "persons" under RFRA, when corporations are?

Hobby Lobby and 'Persons'

In prior cases denying detainees relief under RFRA, federal courts have relied on case law that restricted the scope of "person." The detainees' lawsuit alleges that Hobby Lobby "makes it clear that a 'person' whose religious free exercise is burdened under color of law need not be a U.S. citizen or resident in order to enjoy the RFRA's protections."

Without allowing detainees to be considered "persons" under RFRA, we may be left with an absurd result: Corporations are more "people" than flesh-and-blood humans.

Prisoners have been able to successfully petition for Ramadan accommodations in the past. Perhaps this semantic distinction is the only thing keeping these Gitmo detainees from their communal Ramadan prayer.

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