The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court opposing President Trump's travel ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.
FFRF argues that the executive order, "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States," issued on Jan. 27 this year and then reissued on March 6, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. FFRF notes that the order's underlying purpose is religious: to ban a religious minority (Muslims) and to favor Christians. The brief also makes the contention that the travel ban contravenes Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a religious test for office or public trust. It would create precedence that could be used to target not only religious minorities, but also the significant minority today that identifies as nonreligious.
"Never in the history of the United States have our immigration policies and procedures been used to deny opportunity to religious groups and to favor a particular religion," FFRF asserts. "Executive Order 13780 sullies that history with a ban on travel targeting six majority-Muslim nations and motivated by the religious makeup of those countries."
The order is not tailored to address the president's supposed purpose, FFRF maintains. Less than a quarter of Muslim-Americans involved in violent extremism of any kind have family ties to the six countries designated in the order. And, in fact, only four asylum seekers, or 0.0006 percent of the 700,522 admitted from 1975 through 2015, later committed acts of terror.
Consistent public statements by the Trump administration coloring the executive order as a "Muslim ban" suggest an underlying religious purpose. Clear repeated statements by the president show the order was motivated by a desire to give preference to a religion and to discriminate against unpopular religious minorities. This impermissible intent is an unconstitutional endorsement and advancement of religion and fails the Supreme Court's so-called Lemon test.
The history and effect of this executive order conveys Trump's message loud and clear: "We don't want them here." The executive order effectively establishes Christianity as a favored religion and Christians as favored members of society, while overtly discriminating against Muslims. The Trump administration has engaged in a campaign of religious discrimination and favoritism that will not stop until the Supreme Court unequivocally strikes down its religious purpose as unconstitutional, FFRF concludes.
"It would set a frightening precedent if our president or government is permitted to target those with minority views on religion," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Freedom of conscience is supposed to be paramount in the United States. As Thomas Jefferson famously said: 'The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.'"
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in Madison, Wis., is the largest U.S. association of freethinkers, representing over 29,000 atheists, agnostics, and other freethinking American citizens.
FFRF's lead counsel for the amicus brief is its Legal Director Rebecca Markert. The state/church watchdog wants to thank Immigration Law Attorney Huma Ahsan for approaching it about the brief and inspiring it to get involved, and Russell Busch, a summer law clerk with FFRF from the University of Michigan, who also helped with research and drafting.