Federal lawsuit challenges surveillance of pastor for immigrant ministry

by | Jul 11, 2019

What if the government finds your ministry to those in need to be dangerous? Can the state monitor you? Put you on a watch list? Detain and interrogate you? Does religious freedom protect clergy from such intrusions? That is the question raised by a lawsuit filed by a Manhattan pastor who alleges her religious freedom rights have been infringed by government surveillance stemming from her ministry to immigrants.

Religion News Service reports:

The Rev. Kaji Douša, senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church and longtime advocate for immigrants’ rights, was the only clergy member listed in a secret government database created to collect information on the caravan of Central American migrants that traveled through Mexico toward the U.S. border last fall.

Dousa’s complaint, filed Monday in the Southern District of California, states that she was detained and interrogated while attempting to re-enter the United States after ministering to immigrants in Tijuana, that her vigils and rallies have been tracked by ICE officials, and that she is included in a secret database of “journalists, attorneys, immigrant-rights activists, and others…”

As a result, the complaint argues, her ministry is being hindered by the government. “Defendants’ targeting of Pastor Dousa,” it alleges, “deprives [her] of her ability to offer pastoral guidance without credible fear of intrusion and retaliation by the government.”

Dousa’s suit alleges violations of the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, adding:

Defendants’ actions are not only unlawful, but fundamentally at odds with a democratic society in which people are free to follow their faith and government policy is subject to robust debate and criticism. Authoritarian regimes spy on, detain, and punish their critics; democracies thrive on the competition of ideas and freedom of belief.

The entire complaint is worth a read. Stay tuned.