A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that practitioners of a 30-year-old Chinese spiritual practice cannot designate their displays protesting the Chinese government as places of worship. South Korean members of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus perform at a public park along the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Ahn Young-joon/AP

Falun Gong followers can’t designate protest sites as ‘places of religious worship’, federal appeals court rules

Christopher Hutton October 15, 04:18 PM October 15, 04:18 PM

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that practitioners of a 30-year-old Chinese spiritual practice cannot designate their displays protesting the Chinese government as places of worship.

“The record here shows that at most that there were only sporadic instances of worship at the tables,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit stated, according to Courthouse News. “Plaintiffs and their fellow practitioners instead understood the primary purpose of the tables as a site from which to disseminate information about the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Falun Gong.”

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According to the lawsuit, practitioners of Falun Gong regularly gathered outside of the Taiwan Cultural Center in the New York borough of Queens, where they would present information about China torturing Falun Gong adherents, including graphic imagery of organ harvesting. The Chinese Anti-Cult Alliance often protested their displays. This organization wanted to out the religious organization as an “evil cult.”

In an attempt to quell the protests, the organization filed a lawsuit in 2016 that claimed the Alliance’s demonstrations violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

A federal judge initially sided with the Falun Gong in 2018.

“At most, the evidence shows that the activity at the tables was motivated by teachings of the Falun Gong leader, akin to how Quaker groups may protest wars or Catholic groups may protest abortion laws in public streets motivated by their respective religious beliefs,” U.S. Circuit Judge Susan Carney wrote. “But that such political and social action may be rooted in religious belief does not transform the public spaces where the action occurs into ‘places of religious worship.'”

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Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual movement with influence across the globe and has an active presence in the United States.

The movement was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi; the organization mixes qigong, a series of traditional Chinese medicinal practices, with spiritual teachings. The organization drew ire from the Chinese Communist Party when it decided not to tie itself to the Chinese state and protested the CCP. In 1999, the CCP banned the movement as a “heretical cult.”

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