“Restoring Religious Freedom” by Stanton Jones, of the law firm Arnold & Porter

December 24th,2019 Categories: Pastor Kaji's Blog

We learned in March of this past year that the Department of Homeland Security had compiled a list of people, it included journalists, activists, advocates, lawyers, humanitarian workers, all people who – for one reason or another – had traveled to the Southern border, and specifically to Tijuana, to provide services of all sorts to migrants, to people who were seeking refuge in the United States as part of the Migrant Caravan. And we learned of this government watch list or targeting list, through a whistle blower – someone who worked for ICE, and was deeply concerned by what he saw. The notion that our government would target lawyers and reporters and aid workers because of their interests and the services they were providing to migrants. And one of the things we learned through this list is that there was one member of the clergy on this list. Pastor Kaji from The Park is the one faith leader who was included on this list, because she, like others, had traveled to Tijuana in the Fall and Winter of 2018 to provide pastoral care to migrants, to people seeking refuge in the United States. And that is deeply troubling – the notion that our government – the United States government – would target a member of the clergy, would detain her, would interrogate her, because the government disfavors the people whom she chooses to minister to. It goes against the most basic concept of religious freedom. Religious freedom in this country includes the right of the people, the congregants, to pray, and also the right of the clergy to provide pastoral care to whomever they choose, however they choose. And the notion of this government watch list cut deeply against our most cherished values of religious freedom. And so we brought a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and CBP and ICE, all of the arms of the United States government that were believed to be involved in the creation and implementation of this government watch list, this surveillance list. And, through the lawsuit, though it’s still in its early stages, we’ve already learned even more troubling facts about what this list was, how it was created and how Pastor Kaji was included on it. We have learned through documents that the government produced in the litigation, that Pastor Kaji was included and targeted on this list because the government did not like the fact that she was performing purely religious marriage ceremonies for migrants in Tijuana. And that should trouble and concern every one of us – a pastor can marry whomever she wants. It is a basic part of religious practice, and the notion that the government would selectively target particular members of the clergy because the government does not like the people that they are marrying – again, it goes against every notion that we have of religious freedom. And so, the lawsuit is in its early stages, but will go on – the government will be forced to produce more documents, we’ve sought an injunction, which is a court order, to stop the government from targeting Pastor Kaji, to undo whatever it is that has been done as a result of her inclusion on this illegal, unconstitutional targeting list, and to restore her religious freedoms in full.