The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty


The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Infobox_Organization
name = The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
language = English
general = N/A
headquarters = Washington, DC
formation = 1994
website = [http://becketfund.org/ www.becketfund.org]

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that describes itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan, interfaith, legal and educational institute dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions." 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 philosophy of religious liberty is 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 civilized 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 government affairs on an equal basis with everyone else, and should not be excluded for professing their faith." [(www.becketfund.org)]

Litigation Activities

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, 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 zuhr 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 also currently represents public school students who wish 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.

One major area of litigation has been 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 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

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, in Rome, Italy.

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.

Organizational history

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. Hasson named The Becket Fund after Thomas à Becket (1118 AD -1170 AD).

During the reign of King Henry II, Becket served as Chancellor of England, overseeing the laws of the kingdom. But later, as Archbishop of Canterbury, he refused to allow the King to interfere in the internal affairs of the Church, and was killed in his Cathedral by several knights in response to the King's complaints.

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 ( [http://www.law.com/jsp/tal/PubArticleTAL.jsp?id=1167127308906] ). Picarello became General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in late September 2007.

Criticism

Referring to various cases of RLUIPA litigation, Marci A. Hamilton writes in her 2005 "God vs. the Gavel" that it is "common for interest groups like the Becket Fund to belittle private homeowners' interests in the residential character of their neighborhoods as lowly 'aesthetics.'" In that book's fourth chapter, Hamilton accuses the Beckett fund of "injecting interdenominational hatred into a context where it otherwise did not exist," referring to a January 22nd, 2003 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece wherein Becket Fund then-Vice President Patrick Korten implied that Abington Township, a suburb of Philadelphia, prevented a Jewish congregation from taking over a former Catholic convent solely on the grounds that such a move did not constitute a 'continuing use' of the property. In fact, Hamilton contends, an additional confounding factor in that case that was not mentioned in Korten's op-ed was that such a move would "transform a property so quiet that neighbors did not know monks still resided there into a full-service, large-scale religious complex that would multiply traffic by a factor of 15." [cite book
last = Hamilton
first = Marci
authorlink = Marci A. Hamilton
title = God vs. the Gavel
publisher = Cambridge University Press
date = 2005
location = New York, New York
isbn = 970-0-521-70448-3
]

References

External links

* [http://www.becketfund.org The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Homepage]
* [http://www.freepreach.org Freedom to Preach Resource Page]
* [http://www.RLUIPA.org RLUIPA Resource Page]
* [http://www.blaineamendments.com Blaine Amendments Resource Page]
* [http://www.lankaliberty.org Lanka Liberty - Sri Lanka Resource Page]


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