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Attorney makes defending religious liberty his mission

Attorney follows his conscience to protect right of others to do the same

Published: Friday, Aug. 10 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

"Because of how we're made, we are each free — within broad limits — to follow what we believe to be true in the manner that our consciences say we must," Hasson writes in his book. "That is, we are free to celebrate our beliefs in public and try respectfully to persuade others of them. We are free, in fact, to organize our entire lives around them."

And, Hasson claims, history has shown that repressing that natural right will eventually backfire.

"He is a true litigation entrepreneur," said Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. He noted how Hasson's approach can disarm secularists because it is consistent with their concept of human rights.

"He came up with a great approach to defending the first freedom that recognizes the connection between religious liberty and preserving human dignity. His approach is much less tied to a particular faith but about the broader human right."

Smith said Hasson's approach persuaded the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse itself in 2010 and agree that the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance wasn't government endorsement of a religion, but reflected the Founding Fathers' philosophy that certain "inalienable rights" came from a higher source than government and couldn't be taken away.

After battling the debilitating effects of Parkinson's disease for more than a decade, Hasson retired last year from work at the Becket Fund. But as emeritus president and a board member, his influence and legacy remain.

"We all admire him for his vision and courage," Smith said. "Seamus understood from the beginning that the Becket Fund had to be a place that recognized that if anyone didn't have religious freedom, then no one had religious freedom. He really established that as the bedrock principle of the Becket Fund, and it's one that continues."

email: mbrown@desnews.com

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