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Fighting the good fight for religious right

Published: Sunday, Aug. 18 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

Customers walk into a Hobby Lobby Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in Dallas.

Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

The battle for her personal freedom began before she was born — when her parents, Julio Cesar and Kristina, left behind all their worldly possessions as they fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castro’s emerging regime.

Is it any wonder the life’s work Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz has chosen?

Arriaga de Bucholz is executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm and educational foundation that is getting a lot of attention these days as legal defenders in the so-called Hobby Lobby case. The Becket Fund represents David and Barbara Green, owners of Hobby Lobby, the national arts and crafts chain, in the Greens' lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 that forces companies to pay for employee health insurance that includes drugs and devices that could cause abortions.

The Greens, devout Christians, object to that requirement on the basis that it infringes on their religious beliefs. The case is pending, but just last week the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that Hobby Lobby and other companies can base their lawsuits on the grounds that their constitutionally protected religious freedoms have been violated.

It’s not the Becket Fund’s first fight. Founded in 1994, the organization has represented dozens of religions, from the Amish to Roman Catholics to Mormons to Buddhists to Unitarians and all in between, and lays claim to being “the only public interest law firm that defends all religions.” It is named after Thomas à Becket, the 12th century cleric who adroitly bridged the divide of church and state by serving simultaneously as Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England.

Arriaga de Bucholz, who has a master’s degree in liberal studies from Georgetown University, has her own rich background in defending human and civil rights. Prior to joining the Becket Fund in 1995, she worked with the United Nations human rights commission and before that as an advocate for Cuban human rights activists. Also on her résumé is a four-year stint as an appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The Becket Fund’s executive director and lifelong freedom fighter agreed to have a conversation with the Deseret News about religious liberties and the challenges they constantly face.

DN: Thank you for spending this time with us. Your origin story sounds like something out of a novel. What year did your parents leave Cuba and under what circumstances?

KA: They left in 1961. My parents were engaged at the time Castro elevated himself to power. My mother was working as a secretary at the Havana offices of DuPont Paints. When Castro nationalized all private businesses and took possession of all their assets, DuPont offered work visas for their employees. She left first. A few months later, after the political police briefly arrested my uncle, my father found a way to get a one-way ticket to the United States. He left everything behind — his home, his business and all his possessions. He arrived with absolutely nothing except the clothes he was wearing.

DN: So he had to start all over?

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