Press Advisory:
Columbia Law Professor files Amicus Brief in Federal Prosecution of Catholic Anti-Nuclear Activists in Georgia

Media Contact:
Elizabeth Boylan | eboyla@law.columbia.edu | 212.854.0167

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On November 6th, Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia University in the City of New York, submitted an amicus brief on behalf of scholars of religious liberty law in a case in which the federal government is prosecuting a group of Catholic peace activists, United States of America vs. Stephen Kelley et al.  The brief provides guidance to the federal court on how to examine the claims of the activists, the Kings Bay Plowshares, that criminal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice substantially burdens their sincerely held religious belief that nuclear weapons are evil. The brief supports neither party in the case, but rather seeks to provide the court with the proper framework within which to consider the defendants’ motion to dismiss grounded in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Professors Micah J. Schwartzman, the Joseph W. Dorn Research Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, and Nelson Tebbe, a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, joined the brief.

“This case raises important questions regarding the use of RFRA as a defense in a criminal prosecution,” said Professor Katherine Franke, the principal author of the brief. “As legal scholars of religious liberty it is our concern that RFRA is interpreted consistently across contexts where sincerely held religious beliefs are substantially burdened by government action. We note in the brief that the Justice Department has taken a position in this case that is much less protective of religious liberty than it has in cases where the underlying issues are more aligned with the administration’s political agenda,” continued Franke.

Earlier this year, Professor Franke submitted an amicus brief on behalf of scholars of religious liberty in U.S. v. Warren, a case in which a member of the humanitarian group No More Deaths in Southern Arizona is being prosecuted by the federal government for aiding migrants crossing the desert. In that case, Scott Warren claims that his actions were compelled by a sincerely held religious belief in coming to the aid of persons in great distress, and that prosecution for a felony by the U.S. Justice Department substantially burdened his religious beliefs.

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Katherine Franke is the Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Columbia University, where she also directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and is the faculty director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project. She is a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and the Center for Palestine Studies.  She is among the nation’s leading scholars writing on law, religion and rights, drawing from feminist, queer, and critical race theory.

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Access a .pdf of the Amicus Brief, here: https://bit.ly/2yY4ob5.

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