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Trial Begins in Pastor's Lawsuit Against DHS for Retaliating Against her for Exercising Her First Amendment Rights to Provide Pastoral Services to Migrants and Refugees

San Diego, CA — On Monday, Aug. 29th, lawyers representing Reverend Kaji Douša will appear in federal court to argue that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subjected her to intelligence-gathering, detention and interrogation, and revocation of travel privileges in response to her exercise of her constitutional and civil rights to offer pastoral care. The trial will begin at 9 a.m. PDT at the federal courthouse in San Diego before Judge Todd W. Robinson of United States District Court for the Southern District of California. The trial is expected to continue through Thursday, Sep. 1st.

Plaintiff Rev. Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City. She has used her ministry to advocate for migrants and refugees, both within the United States and across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. Rev. Douša’s ministry has included praying for migrants and against suffering, offering the sacred rite of Christian marriage, and organizing prayerful vigils — some of which have been critical of U.S. immigration law and policy. All of these activities are protected by federal law, even if they cast the government in a negative light or serve those whom the government disfavors.

Despite these protections, DHS has retaliated against Rev. Douša. The targeting of those who offer comfort to out-groups through power grabs and unjust law enforcement is a classic tactic of authoritarian regimes. Rev. Douša’s experiences show that our own government is capable of such abuse.

At trial, Rev. Douša’s lawyers will make public for the first time evidence demonstrating DHS’s express “targeting” of people exercising First Amendment rights for retaliation and a shocking lack of oversight of the officials who undertook this targeting. This evidence will build upon the already-damning record of DHS’s “Operation Secure Line” as illustrated by leaked documents and a review by DHS’s Office of the Inspector General.

Protect Democracy, in partnership with the law firm Arnold & Porter, represents Rev. Douša. Previous case filings and additional background information can be accessed here.

Statements:

Reverend Kaji Douša said: “God has called me to pastor to migrants and refugees, and when God calls, God requires. For responding to God’s call, my country of citizenship and birth – the United States – has decided to punish me. After much prayer and deliberation, I brought this lawsuit against DHS to bring my country’s retaliation against my ministry to an end. I want this powerful government to stop wantonly attacking advocates, journalists, and humanitarian workers for helping others. And I want this powerful government to stop their attempt to inhibit faith leaders, like me, from legitimately responding to God’s call – even if an administration in charge does not like who we serve. I pray that the court will uphold my constitutional right to exercise my Christian faith free from surveillance, retaliation, or harm. The U.S. Constitution means a great deal to me, and it should mean a great deal to the Department of Homeland Security, too. I want this lawsuit to help bring DHS’ actions into alignment with my – and our – Constitutional freedoms and religious protections.”

William Perdue, Partner at Arnold & Porter said: “No government official should target someone for adverse treatment based on their religious practices or their speech. But that is exactly what immigration officials did to Pastor Dousa and to others. We look forward to helping Pastor Dousa tell her important story in this case.”

Christine Kwon, Counsel for Protect Democracy said: “DHS’s targeting of a pastor providing religious services and humanitarian aid to migrants comes straight out of the authoritarian playbook. While such tactics may be tolerated elsewhere, they have no place in the United States. Protecting Pastor Dousa’s constitutional freedoms is essential to maintaining the core principles of our democracy.”