KA: My father understood that the only way he could rebuild his life and support his young growing family was to be a successful entrepreneur. While in Miami, he studied English reading books and watching “I Love Lucy.” He practiced at the local breakfast diner by ordering pancakes. One day, when the waitress served him apple pie instead, he knew it would be impossible to get rid of his thick Cuban accent. In 1967, with my brother and I in tow, he decided to join his sister, her family and his parents who had moved to Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico. Although he had been a trained litigator and a businessman in Cuba, the only job he could find in San Juan was selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners from house to house. He failed. At the time very few people had carpeting in their houses. So, he started to sell chemical products. This time he had a plan: As he went from house to house selling cleaning products, he would ask for a “cortadito.” Puerto Ricans, being very hospitable people, would gladly serve him their version of the espresso. He would then “accidentally” spill it and proceed to remove the stain with the product he was selling. He was successful on that venture and moved on to other sales jobs. He eventually sold commercial real estate. By the time he passed away in 2009, he had provided his three children with a college education and a comfortable life. Naturally, we all have a never-say-die strong work ethic.
DN: How much did your family’s history have to do with the avocation you have chosen?
KA: My exiled family is deeply grateful for the freedom we enjoy and ever vigilant to threats to that freedom. From early on, I was taught it was our obligation to understand the nature of our rights and participate in our civic and political process. My parents valued education above any material possession. Objectively, I grew up poor. But I never felt poor. We were rich people temporarily without money. With education and will, we would eventually triumph. And we did. For the last 25 years, I have had the privilege of working in human rights- and civil rights-related work. My work at the Becket Fund is to protect the freedom that is precisely at the core of all other freedoms: religious liberty. If we cannot live according to our deeply held convictions, all other freedoms are nullified.
DN: In a nutshell, what is the principle that the Becket Fund is defending on behalf of Hobby Lobby?
KA: The Becket Fund is defending the principle that individuals do not sacrifice their right to religious freedom when they enter the marketplace. Hobby Lobby is a business run by persons of faith in a way consistent with their values, which preclude paying for drugs that may cause abortions. It is unconstitutional to force religious employers to choose between prospering in their chosen livelihood or acting according to their consciences.
DN: As the Hobby Lobby publicity suggests, it appears business is brisk these days on the religious liberty front. Is that perception reality, and if the answer is yes, why the up tick?
KA: The threats to religious liberty are very serious. The government has argued that entrepreneurs do not have First Amendment rights once they enter into business. With the final version of the Health and Human Services contraceptive-coverage mandate rolling out, religious business owners are facing crippling fines as the price of living according to their beliefs. This will have widespread implications for how Americans may exercise religious freedom, and it sets a dangerous precedent that contradicts generations of constitutional thought. We expect to be dealing with the issue of the insurance coverage mandate for years to come, and will continue fighting until the religious liberty rights of all Americans are secured. In addition, the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage will create Constitutional conflicts in jurisdictions where there are no specific legal protections for those who believe in the traditional meaning of marriage. There is a movement towards using the power of the government to punish people who defend traditional marriage — through suppressing their free speech, restricting their employment and the like. Since marriage and religion have always been linked, this will be a major challenge to religious freedom. So, yes, business looks to be brisk for quite some time.
DN: What, in your view, are the Becket Fund's most significant triumphs?
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