Religious liberty coalitions shift – Obama backs Becket Fund’s client, previous allies go mute

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Guest post by Daniel Bennett

Religious freedom advocacy in the United States is often a quirky, complicated enterprise. Groups who are combatants one day may be allies the next.

Last spring, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty successfully defended Hobby Lobby against the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.” This fall, it will defend a Muslim prisoner wanting to  maintain a beard (covered here on Corner blog)

This case is bringing together a diverse coalition that includes the Anti-Defamation League, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Alliance Defending Freedom, several social scientists, and even the U.S. government.

Yes, the Obama administration is lining up behind the group that, just a few months ago, dealt its signature policy achievement a major defeat.

In fact, several groups supporting Becket today took a different approach in Hobby Lobby: the Anti-Defamation League, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Jewish Committee filed amicus briefs supportive the government’s position.

Becket’s stance also appears to be stretching the ties that bind Christian Right groups: the American Center for Law and Justice, Thomas More Law Center, Family Research Council, and Liberty Counsel all supported Becket in Hobby Lobby, but have failed to line up in support of the prisoner’s case.

On the other hand, Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Institute, and the Rutherford Institute all filed briefs in both cases, with Liberty Institute’s most recent brief written on behalf of the social scientists mentioned above.

Groups like Becket are difficult to categorize in ideological terms, as they attract friends in one case that may be foes in another. Just months after an article detailed their ties to the conservative community, Becket’s defense of a Muslim prisoner may alienate some there: recent surveys from Pew and Gallup have reported that conservatives view Muslims in a consistently unfavorable light.

These same surveys, though, found liberals to be more favorable in their assessments of Muslims. So while liberals tended to decry the Hobby Lobby decision, they may end up approving of Becket’s position here.

Daniel Bennett, PhD, researches the conservative legal movement. He is an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Kentucky University. You can follow him on twitter at @BennettDaniel.

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