The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 26 in favor of President Donald J. Trump’s administration in a legal challenge to the Muslim ban. The ruling allows the administration to continue banning thousands of Muslims from entering the United States – for now.
The Trump v. Hawaii ruling came as a disappointment to many religious freedom advocates, including Americans United, which fought all three iterations of the ban in court. The high court overturned a preliminary injunction that had blocked implementation of the ban. It also sent the case back to a lower court for further consideration, meaning it may still be possible to fight the ban in future legal proceedings.
Shortly after the decision was released, AU staff members, allies and activists gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to protest it.
“Our hearts break for the millions of Americans who, thanks to this ban, face peak rates of hate crimes and maltreatment – and being separated from their loved ones,” AU’s president and CEO Rachel Laser said at the rally. “And our hearts break for America. For, with this decision, our country has forsaken one of our most cherished values – that our government must never single out any one religion for discrimination.”
Laser noted that the ruling came off as hypocritical, given that just weeks earlier, the high court ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the First Amendment bars even subtle hostility toward religion. The court pum-meled Colorado state commissioners for “hostility” toward the religious beliefs of a Christian baker, but in the Muslim ban case, they ignored Trump’s blatant attacks against Muslims.
“My friends, the Muslim ban, born as a political maneuver to embolden religious and racial bigotry, is hardly subtle,” Laser said.
(Photo: AU President and CEO Rachel Laser speaks outside the Supreme Court on June 26 at the “We Will Not Be Banned” rally to protest Trump’s Muslim ban and to voice support for Muslims.)
Trump’s lengthy list of anti-Muslim remarks includes calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and claiming that Islam “hates us.”
In a sharply worded dissent, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg drew parallels between the two cases and attacked the majority opinion for ignoring Trump’s anti-Muslim animus on the campaign trail and during his presidency.
“[The same] principles should apply equally here,” Sotomayor asserted in the dissent. “But unlike in Masterpiece … the government actors in this case will not be held accountable for breaching the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious neutrality and tolerance.”
Continued Sotomayor, “The United States of America is a Nation built on the promise of religious liberty. Our founders honored that core promise by embedding the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment. The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.”
The most recent version of Trump’s policy bans travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the country. Americans United, joined by Muslim Advocates and the law firm Covington & Burling, filed IAAB v. Trump, the first lawsuit brought against Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0. The plaintiffs include Iranian Alliances Across Borders, an Iranian-American diaspora community organization; the Iranian Students’ Foundation, a student group at the University of Maryland; and six individuals, all of whom are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents with relatives or spouses who are blocked from coming to the United States by the Muslim ban. The case was brought in consultation with the National Iranian American Council.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February in favor of the IAAB plaintiffs and the plaintiffs in two companion cases, proclaiming that Muslim Ban 3.0 is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.” The Supreme Court’s ruling, however, rejects that.
Although the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t mark the end of the legal battle against the ban, activists acknowledged the need for legislative action to end the inhumane policy, which remains unpopular. According to Pew Research Center, at 76 percent, white evangelicals are the only religious group in the country in support of the ban.
The public’s disapproval of the policy was visible throughout the rally at the Supreme Court, which was organized by the Justice for Muslims Collective. Many interfaith and non-theist groups showed up to stand in solidarity with Muslims, and politicians emphasized that the Supreme Court’s ruling is far from the end, with some suggesting bringing an end to the ban through legislation in Congress.
“We will not rest while hate drives this and other shameful policies,” AU President and CEO Rachel Laser said. “Together, we will continue to fight for the very soul of our country. … In our America, all religions are welcome here.”
“What has happened today is an absolute travesty to the core value of freedom of religion in the United States of America,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said. “What was true over a year ago is still true today. This Muslim ban is un-American. Lady Liberty is crying. We are a nation of immigrants and we must stand together for the strength of our nation.”
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) urged her colleagues to support House Bill 4271, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) in December 2017 to block the implementation of the Muslim ban.
“Congress has the power to overturn this hateful decision and pass a law to stop this cruelty,” Lee noted.
During a well-received speech at the rally, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) said that the Supreme Court did not live up to the “Equal Justice Under Law” phrase that’s engraved on its building.
“Congress now has an obligation and responsibility to clarify that denying entry to our nation based on religion defies the ideals that have always made us strong,” Kennedy said. “We demand a government as decent as our citizens, and where our government fails, our citizens will respond…. Mark my words, we will win.”
Speeches from members of Congress perhaps provided a glimpse of what’s next in the fight against the Muslim ban. More importantly, the human impact is what highlights the urgency to block Trump’s ban once and for all.
That’s why when U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents a district with the largest Muslim community in America, took the podium, she emphasized how the ban hurts real people.
“An 8-year-old girl hugged me in school and started crying, and she told me she feared that someone would come in the middle of the night, knock on their door and tear her family away,” Dingell said. “I have now heard that story 30 times.”
Mana Kharrazi, the executive director of IAAB and a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed by AU and allies, spoke at the rally and shared how the ban has affected her personally.
“I sued for our communities and for the thousands of families who’ve been torn apart and made invisible by this terrible ban,” Kharrazi said while fighting back tears. “Today we lost our battle in the court, but this is just one step in the longer battle. … We’re being demonized, we’re being scapegoated and it’s hurting our children in their schools. It’s hurting them in the subways. It’s hurting them in our communities.”
Because of these human impacts, Americans United and allies fought in court on behalf of an elderly Maryland couple in poor health who want to see their son, two American women who must choose whether they have to give up their lives in the U.S. to be with their Iranian partners, a married couple who can’t see one of their parents and a public school teacher unable to reunite with her brother in Iran.
While it’s unclear how long it will take to stop the ban in Congress, what’s clear, AU said, is the Supreme Court’s Muslim ban ruling was on the wrong side of history.
“We are united in the belief that people of all faiths, and with no religious affiliation, all deserve equal treatment in America,” Laser said. “We are united in the belief that religious freedom is for all of us, and not just some of us, and we are united in the belief that we must separate church and state – religion and government – not because we are hostile to religion, but in order to protect everybody’s religious freedom.”
As Laser and other civil liberties leaders noted, the fight is not over, and Americans United will be fighting the Muslim ban every step of the way.
“We will not rest while hate drives this and other shameful policies,” Laser said. “Together, we will continue to fight for the very soul of our country. … In our America, all religions are welcome here.”