Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked an attempt to prevent Chabad of Irvine from practicing a historic Jewish ritual.
The court denied the activists’ motion for an “injunction pending appeal.” In other words, this motion asked the court to stop the small Orthodox Jewish synagogue–located in Irvine, California–from practicing the traditional kaparos ceremony until the court rules on the case sometime in the future. A ritual practiced for more than 1,000 years, inside a house of worship, would have been shut down for at least this year.
And this week, on the eve of the Jewish High Holy Days, attorneys with First Liberty obtained assurances from attorneys representing animal rights activists that Orthodox Jews practicing kaporos will not be physically assaulted and placed under “private persons arrest.”
Just two days after the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Orthodox Jewish community, activists filed APRL v. City of Los Angeles in federal court, seeking to force the cities of Los Angeles and Irvine to prevent Orthodox Jews from participating in the kaporos ritual, while claiming the right to place individual kaporos participants under “private persons arrest” if the police will not.
“The First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one’s faith freely,” Stephanie Taub, First Liberty Counsel said in a press release. “We hope these activists keep their word. No one should fear being placed under arrest—by the police or fellow citizens—for peacefully exercising their religion.”
ANIMAL RIGHTS VS. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Animal rights groups have sued in both state and federal court to prevent the synagogue from practicing kaporos, where the atonement of sins is contemplated through prayer and the kosher and humane killing of a chicken.
First Liberty has already earned victories for Chabad of Irvine at both the state court and federal district court levels, though both are being appealed.
“The First Amendment guarantees the right of this synagogue to practice its historic faith,” Taub stated. “When will these animal rights activists learn that they cannot use the courts to intimidate this synagogue?”
ATTACKING A HISTORIC JEWISH ATONEMENT RITUAL
The kaparos ceremony–part of Jewish tradition–is performed between the Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur each year. But animal rights groups took offense at this practice. The UPC—based in Virginia–sued Chabad of Irvine in federal court in California on September 29, 2016. Not long afterward, the court issued a temporary order banning the synagogue from carrying out the ritual. The court set a hearing date for October 13, the day after the end of Yom Kippur.
However, First Liberty and volunteer attorneys from the international law firm of WilmerHale appeared before a judge on October 11, 2016, less than three hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur. After a lengthy argument, the judge lifted the ban with less than 20 minutes to spare.
VICTORIES IN BOTH STATE AND FEDERAL COURT
The case against the synagogue continued, and on May 12, 2017, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against the synagogue.
“We are overjoyed that the judge saw the wisdom of protecting our ability to practice a cherished tradition of our faith,” Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum, the Rabbi of the Chabad of Irvine, stated at the time. “We hope this victory will encourage everyone to live in peace and tolerance of everyone’s religious beliefs.”
But Chabad of Irvine also faced challenges in California state court, where another activist organization challenged the kaparos ceremony. On June 23, 2017, the state court ruled in favor of the synagogue.
However, both the state and federal lawsuits are continuing. The UPC has now appealed the federal court ruling to the Ninth Circuit. As the “citizen’s arrest” claim by related activists demonstrates, opponents of this historic Jewish practice show no intention of stopping–and their attacks are growing more egregious.
PROTECTING THE FREE EXERCISE OF FAITH
The “free exercise” of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, and First Liberty Institute is committed to defending the religious freedom rights of members of the Orthodox Jewish community when they come under legal attack.
“Americans may disagree with the religious beliefs of their neighbors, but should always respect their right to peacefully practice their faith” says Taub. “You cannot threaten to arrest someone just because you disagree with their religious beliefs.”
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