When Central American migrants fleeing violence turn to dangerous border crossings at the US Southern border they risk injury, dehydration and death. Volunteers dropping off water and food have become targets of Customs and Border Patrol as part of the Trump Administration crackdown on illegal immigration. This week we take a closer look at the federal prosecution of Ajo Samaritans and No More Deaths volunteer Scott Warren and religious freedom rights at the border.
Lost Souls Need Water: A Calling to Help after Finding Human Remains
Most religions teach people to help those in need. But what happens when that mandate clashes with how the government views the law? After federal prosecutors cracked down on volunteers providing aid on the border, Scott Warren faced decades in prison for following his conscience. Producer Jude Joffe-Block brings us his story that begins when he discovers human remains in the borderlands not far from his home in Ajo, Arizona. This segment was commissioned by Sacred Steps a collaborative reporting project between KALW San Francisco and the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
On Trial: The Government’s Prosecution Galvanized a Faith Community
The story continues as the second federal trial inspires rallies around the country. Faith leaders gather in Manhattan to pray for Scott Warren. In this second trial the jury agreed with the defense team’s argument that Warren’s actions are protected under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Warren, who identifies only as spiritual, was acquitted and the case set a new precedent. Producer Jude Joffe-Block offers an update on how the pandemic and the current closings at the ports of entry have led to an increase in migrants seeking entry across the treacherous borderlands.
A Closer Look at Religious Exemptions
Offering context on religious freedom at the border is Katherine Franke, the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University and the faculty director of the law rights and religion project. Franke wrote an amicus brief in support of Scott Warren on behalf of legal scholars in which she describes how prosecutorial bad acts in which Warren’s beliefs were mocked and dismissed warranted protection. Franke notes that while supporting the outcome in Warren’s trial, activists and legal observers must take note that an ideological imbalance in how the Supreme Court views First Amendment vis a vis other rights could undermine democratic secular law in a multi-faith pluralistic society. Franke argues that the long-standing practice of reviewing claims on a case-by-case basis is being eroded by an ideological campaign to view all religious liberty rights as superseding other rights. An ideological imbalance that should be raised as the Senate prepares to hold confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett.