Coalition of 850 Religious Leaders Backs Lawsuit Against DHS Surveillance of New York Pastor for Her Ministry to Migrants

The Rev. Kaji Douša. Courtesy photo

Earlier this month, Manhattan pastor Kaji Douša filed a federal lawsuit accusing U.S. officials of violating her religious liberty by detaining and surveilling her over her ministry to migrants at the border.

Now, more than 850 ordained clergy from around North America have formed an interfaith coalition in support of Dousa, senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church.

“All of us feel as though this is an infringement on our right to preach and teach and lead,” said Rabbi Joshua Stanton of Manhattan’s East End Temple, who works with undocumented immigrants through the New Sanctuary Coalition movement that Dousa heads. “The idea that I could somehow be limited in who I could reach out to simply because of their country of origin or simply because of where they wanted the ceremony held is unfathomable. I couldn’t be a rabbi if that were the case.”

Stanton joined hundreds of leaders who signed an open letter in support of Dousa. Other signatories include faith leaders from the United Church of Christ, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Yale Divinity School, Muslim Community Network, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and hundreds of other houses of worship and organizations.

The coalition hopes to bring Dousa’s case to the limelight by advocating on her behalf to elected officials, said Corey Dukes from Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit that is co-counsel in Dousa’s lawsuit and helped organize support for her.

On July 8, Dousa filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after discovering that the agencies had listed her in a secret government database collecting information on the Central American migrant caravan traveling toward the U.S. border last fall.

DHS also detained and interrogated Dousa, as well as revoking her Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI, pass to expedite border crossings.

Those actions, her supporters argue, have interfered with Dousa’s ministry and endanger all U.S. faith leaders.

“Migrants face a desperate situation at the Southern Border,” a statement from the coalition reads. “And the work that we do as clergy is crucial to them. We believe there to be a right for us to offer our pastoral services. … In this country, the government cannot decide to whom we may preach or with whom we may pray.”

Faith leaders from more than 40 states have added their names – and at one point, Dousa said, more than 50 clergy members were signing the letter every hour.

“I have been really strongly supported by the clergy community and the faith community in general,” Dousa said. “People very easily connect my story with what could happen to their pastor or their rabbi or themselves, and they’re mobilizing.”

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Source: Religion News Service