Federal Judge Dismisses Anti-Kapparos Lawsuit

chickens, Los Angeles, irvine, Chabad, lawsuit
Chickens used for kapparos, in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit aimed at preventing Jews from performing kapparos in Irvine, California. The suit, which has been pending since last Rosh Hashanah, is the latest defeat for animal-rights activists dedicated to curtailing the practice, who have yet to have their claims recognized by the courts.

“It’s an important victory for the freedom to practice religion in America,” Rabbi Alter Tennenbaum of Chabad of Irvine, who operates the kapparos center at the heart of the suit, told Hamodia. “These groups are trying to prevent people from doing kapparos all over the country, and we’re very happy that their nonsense claims have been defeated.”

Activists associated with the Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns (UPC), an organization focused on animal-rights issues for chickens, have held protests since 2014 at the Irvine site, which services about 150 individuals. The group is tied to demonstrations and legal battles against kapparos around the United States. Their most recent legal action in New York was dismissed in 2015.

In the same year, a suit to stop the practice in Irvine was dismissed by a local judge. Shortly before last Rosh Hashanah, United Poultry Concerns brought a case in a federal court alleging that the ceremony violates California laws that prohibit cruelty to animals. The defendants were not able to respond to the claims in time, and a temporary injunction was ordered but then lifted shortly after attorneys for Chabad replied, just before Yom Kippur.

“They lose every case, but their goal is not to win — just to wear people down,” said Rabbi Tennenbaum. “A lot of kapparos places that got sued just gave up and said they can’t afford to deal with the headache — but that’s exactly what they [UPC] want.”

The suit alleged that accepting donations to slaughter chickens for kapparos constitutes an unfair business practice.

Judge Andre Birotte Jr. rejected the claim, as well as UPC’s standing in the matter.

“Chabad of Irvine does not participate nor compete as a business in the commercial market by performing a religious atonement ritual that involves donations,” says the opinion.

Much of Chabad of Irvine’s argument was based on a 1993 Supreme Court decision in which the Justices ruled unanimously that if animal protection laws allow for exceptions for secular purposes such as hunting, they must extend the same rights to religious practitioners.

Legal filings also made note of the fact that chickens are handled humanely during the kapparos ceremony and are slaughtered in the same manner as all kosher fowl.

“Part of the unique promise of America is that everyone should be free to practice their religious traditions without interference from the government or anyone else,” Jeremy Dys, an attorney for the First Liberty Institute, who has been part of a team defending Chabad of Irvine, told Hamodia. “There might be some practices which traditionalists cling to that seem odd to others, but it is those particularly that need to be protected to ensure our freedoms and the diversity of religious practice in this country.”

Shortly after the case was dismissed, Bryan Pease, an attorney representing UPC, announced that the group planned to appeal. Their motion has already been filed.

The group has brought a similar suit against Chabad in a state court, set to be heard on June 19, alleging violations of California’s animal cruelty, environmental and sanitation laws.

Mr. Dys was optimistic that the federal ruling would be taken into account in the state case as well.

“They certainly should be looking at how other courts have dealt with the issue, and we are hopeful that these cases can eventually put this matter to rest, at least in California,” he said.

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