Agudath Israel of America has submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief asking New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to dismiss a legal challenge to the use of chickens for the pre-Yom Kippur ritual practice of Kaporos.
In the case, Alliance to End Chickens As Kaporos, et al, v. New York City Police Department, et al., the Alliance asks the court to order New York City authorities, in particular the Police Department, to prohibit the use of chickens in the Kaporos ceremony. New York City has declined to prohibit the ceremony, and the lower court ruled that it was within the City’s legal discretion to allow the use of chickens for Kaporos.
One of the main arguments of the Alliance is that because many Jews use money rather than chickens for this ritual, it is therefore not religiously required to use chickens. Accordingly, they argue, the use of chickens is not protected as a matter of freedom of religion. Indeed, one of the judges in the lower court, in his dissent, specifically stated that because “other Orthodox Jewish communities use coins in place of live chickens,” the slaughter of chickens was not “necessary to carry out the religious ritual.”
Agudath Israel takes strong issue with this contention in its brief. The brief argues that the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution (and the Free Exercise Clause of the New York State Constitution), which protects freedom of religion, is “not limited to beliefs which are shared by all of the members of a religious sect.” Citing numerous Supreme Court cases on this point, Agudath Israel maintains that it is simply not for the courts to determine whether the practitioners of Kaporos should use money or chickens, and that those who wish to use chickens have the constitutionally protected right to do so.
Agudath Israel thanks the First Liberty Institute for its great assistance in arranging for the preparation of the brief, and attorneys Jason Levine, Christian Sheehan, Ari Berman, and Laurel Fensterstock of the law firm of Vinson & Elkins LLP for researching and writing the brief.