Reminder: Religious Liberty Laws Also Protect Muslims

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Aside from the occasional reference to Native American peyote rituals, you’d be forgiven for assuming that laws protecting religious liberty — such as Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act — are solely beneficial to Christians.

In fact, though, similar laws have been used to help Muslims who feel laws have unreasonably intruded upon their religious beliefs.

Just this year, for example, in Holt v. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court found that “An Arkansas prison policy that prevents a Muslim prisoner from growing a half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.”

There are, of course, other examples. In Irshad Learning Center v. City of Dupage (2013), a Muslim group was denied a conditional use permit, arguing their facilities weren’t zoned for religious and educational purposes. A judge found that this “did violate [Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act’s] substantial burden provision, and offered no compelling interest for the denial of the application.”

And in Fraternal Order of Police Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark (1999), a court ruled that since medial reasons had been accepted to exempt officers from the “no beard” uniform policy for police officers, religious reasons were also valid.

Of course, not all cases raised by Muslims have succeeded. In many cases, there was instead “a compelling government interest” and the “least restrictive means” had already been used. But that, of course, is sort of the point. The Indiana law wouldn’t permit people to use religious liberty as a carte blanche get-out-of-jail-free card. But it would allow for some common sense to be applied for people who have deep convictions and are being compelled to violate their rights of conscience.

Matt K. Lewis