by Mia Gradick & Jorge Gomez • 4 min read
This week, First Liberty filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the U.S. Supreme Court. We filed it in support of a religious minority group being harassed by members of the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance, an affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Followers of Falun Gong, an Eastern religion that originated in China, are subject to violent persecution in their homeland. Drawn by America’s promise of religious freedom, a number of them now live in Queens, New York, where they pray and share their faith at sidewalk booths on the borough’s Main Street.
However, they continue to face anti-religious violence—even on the streets of New York. On at least twelve documented occasions, the Alliance threatened acts of violence against them—including beatings, death threats and destruction of religious materials.
They took the matter to court and sought protection under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a federal law that forbids violent acts and threats against anyone engaged in religious activity at “a place of religious worship.”
But a federal appeals court ruled against the Falun Gong.
The Second Circuit’s opinion held that their streetside booths were not considered “places of worship.” It ruled that places of worship are only those in which “religious adherents collectively recognize or religious leadership designates as a place primarily to gather for or to hold religious worship activities.” In other words, the Falun Gong are not protected by federal law because they don’t exercise their beliefs in a traditional location such as a synagogue, church or temple. What’s more, the Second Circuit ruling is an intrusion into the internal affairs of a religious group—something that the Supreme Court has previously said is unconstitutional.
For a religious minority that’s clearly a victim of oppression and persecution, this ruling is incredibly dangerous. But the ruling isn’t just harmful to the Falun Gong. It also erodes legal protection for people of all faiths. Their petition to the Supreme Court explains:
“It would also exclude pilgrims chanting on the way to shrines, congregations conducting a sunrise Easter service at a public park, Muslim taxi drivers kneeling for prayer in an airport parking lot, or Native Americans conducting spirit quests in a National Forest. And if anything, worshippers in such places may be even more likely targets of bigoted violence than those gathered in a traditional house of worship.”
In our brief, First Liberty attorneys explain that all religious groups are protected under law:
“In the same way that courts may not dispute the truth of religious beliefs, they also may not define worship to take particular forms, to occur at particular kinds of locations, or to occur only at the direction of a religious authority…Courts have no business requiring any religious adherent to submit to any particular religious authority…It is not within a court’s authority to adjudicate whether worship is the primary purpose.”
Religious minorities should not be persecuted for their faith. Millions of people worldwide look to the U.S. as a safe haven, especially those who face persecution due to their religious beliefs. More than two centuries after our nation’s founding, we endure as the place where people of all faiths can peacefully live without being attacked, having their place of worship burned or their religious symbols vandalized.
Please give to First Liberty today. Your support will help us defend the Falun Gong and other religious minorities. For our nation to continue shining as a beacon of hope and freedom, we must protect the God-given liberty of ALL to live out their faith without the fear of violence or repression.