Gitmo prisoners use Hobby Lobby to fight for religious freedoms

Unidentified detainees at "Camp 6" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on April 8, 2014. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)
Unidentified detainees at "Camp 6" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on April 8, 2014.

If corporations are people with religious rights, why aren't Guantanamo Bay detainees?

That's the central premise of a new lawsuit, filed on behalf of two Guantanamo Bay detainees last week.

"If, under our law, Hobby Lobby is a ‘person’ with a right to religious freedom, surely Gitmo detainees are people too," Cori Crider, the detainees' lawyer said in a statement

Lawyers for Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen have filed for the temporary lifting of a ban that prevents their clients from attending communal Ramadan prayer, which they're barred from attending because they have undergone a hunger strike. The suit, filed just three days after the Supreme Court's controversial Hobby Lobby ruling, argues that the decision expands the legal definition of a "person whose religious free exercise rights are protected by the RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]," the law Hobby Lobby's lawyers used to argue that the company's religious beliefs should prevent them from having to support birth control insurance coverage. 

"Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons -- human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien -- enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA," Rabbani and Hassan's filings read

Two previous D.C. Circuit decisions have ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not "persons" under RFRA protection, but the detainees' lawyers hope the Hobby Lobby case might have changed the rules. Reprieve, the U.K.-based NGO representing the detainees, took their cases earlier this year, filing once before to try and get their communal prayer rights restored and to end the force-feeding used on the two prisoners.

"When we filed earlier this year asking the government to stop force-feeding Rabbani and Hassan, we did include right to pray communally but the government filed their response to that under seal, so I’m afraid what was in it can’t be shared beyond the detainee’s counsel," Reprieve spokesperson Clemency Wells wrote in an email to msnbc. "But we are asking them again and following on from Hobby Lobby, the government will have to argue that corporations are ‘people’ with religious beliefs, while detainees in Guantanamo are not!"

The "Defense Department is aware of the filing," a spokesman for the Department of Defense, told Al Jazeera on Friday, adding that the "government will respond through the legal system."

According to the detainees' lawyers, respondents have indicated that they will oppose the motion.

Hassan, according to the U.S. is thought to be a recruiter for al-Qaida, though he denies involvement with the terrorist organization. According to his lawyers, he's been cleared for release for years, but was not allowed to leave. Rabbani is an admitted al-Qaida facilitator, who worked with operational planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is classified as having high intelligence value to the U.S.