In a fairly complex case about law, a U.S. appeals court in the District of Columbia appears to have handed down a rather stunning ruling:
The four British men also brought constitutional claims and claims under the Geneva Conventions and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Rejecting all of the men’s allegations, the appeals court overturned the only part of a lower court decision that hadn’t already been dismissed. That was the alleged violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Because the plaintiffs are aliens and were located outside sovereign United States territory at the time their alleged RFRA claim arose, they do not fall with the definition of ‘person,'” the court ruled. The law provides that the “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”
What the court seems to be saying is that anyone outside the territory of the United States is not legally a person when it comes to dealing with or responding to state action. Not that they weren’t subject to the sovereignty of the United States government — clearly they were. But by not being on U.S. territory, they weren’t legally people, and thus had no rights. The U.S. government can claim extra-territorial jurisdiction and act extra-territorially, but then maintains a convenient double standard by making sure that those on the business end of its actions, of the exercise of its sovereignty, can do nothing in response. Nifty trick.
But at least it’s good to have a court confirm what we’ve always known — that those who aren’t Americans aren’t people in the eyes of the U.S. government. To quote a certain U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, they also don’t have any rights that same government is bound to respect.