Animal Rights Activists Suit Threatens to ‘Arrest’ Orthodox Jews

Attorney says threat to interfere with Orthodox religious ceremony is not meant literally

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In honor of the high holy day of Rosh Hashanah animal rights activists say they will not attempt to detain Orthodox Jews for the ritual killings of animals.

The Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) is attempting to end the ancient Jewish practice of kaporos, in which Orthodox believers sacrifice chickens in preparation for Yom Kippur, the holy day of atonement.

The group filed suit in Los Angeles attempting to gain an injunction on behalf of the animals. In the brief, it appeared to threaten "private persons arrests" in the event that the city does not step in to prevent the slaughter, which they describe as "criminal acts."

"Plaintiffs desire to exercise their rights under Penal Code §837 to effectuate a private person arrest of agents of the entities killing and discarding animals illegally in their presence. However, every year, Defendants send large forces out to actively protect these criminal acts," the complaint in APRL v. City of Los Angeles says.

The First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm that defends religious freedom, is prepared to intervene in the case to protect its clients' First Amendment rights, arguing that such an action would restrain the performance of religious ceremonies. The institute said the kaporos is done in a humane fashion and has been practiced for centuries. First Liberty deputy general counsel Jeremy Dys called the threat of citizen's arrest "anarchy, not liberty," which would "demolish America's religious liberty and diversity.

"These intolerant activists are trying to engage in vigilante justice, but, in doing so, they are denying basic constitutional rights to Orthodox Jews throughout the Los Angeles community," Dys said. "No American should fear going to jail when they are freely exercising their faith."

APRL attorney Bryan Pease said that the threat of arrest was not meant literally. It is instead a legal tactic that would allow the activists to gain standing in the case and force the Los Angeles Police Department to intervene. Pease's previous attempt to stop the ritual was dismissed in May because it argued kaporos violated "unfair business practice" statutes. Now, the animal rights are turning to criminal, rather than civil law, to end it.

"Nobody is planning to physically interfere with the ritual," Pease said in an email. "The private persons arrest concept is a way that police can be required to cite someone for violating the statute. Our clients' right to initiate such a process, but the apparent belief by LAPD that these acts are either not illegal or somehow protected, is the basis for our attempt to gain standing in the new lawsuit."

Stephanie Taub, another attorney for First Liberty, called on the APRL to drop the suit, which she described as a frivolous case with major implications for religious freedom if the court allows animal rights activists to continue impeding Orthodox Jewish custom.

"These activists are abusing the judicial system, harassing Orthodox Jewish communities simply because they do not agree with their religious beliefs," she said.

APRL is not the first California activist group to attack Orthodox Jews for the sacrifice. Separate suits were filed against an Irvine synagogue and Orthodox believers in Los Angeles in recent attempts to stop them from acting out their faith. A federal judge dismissed the claim in the former because the killing did not represent an "unfair business practice," while a Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the latter on religious liberty grounds. The cases remain under appeal.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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