LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge this week lifted a temporary ban on a group of Jewish practitioners from killing chickens as part of a religious ritual.
U.S. District Judge Andre Birrote Jr. gave the go-ahead to Chabad of Irvine to perform a Jewish ceremony called kapparot. The ceremony involves spinning a chicken over one's head to transmit sins to the bird, which is then slaughtered.
A group called the United Poultry Concerns sued in late September claiming the ceremony, presided over by Chabad of Irvine's chief rabbi Alter Tenenbaum, violates California's animal cruelty laws.
Attorneys for Chabad filed a motion to dissolve the restraining order in time for Yom Kippur, which commenced on Tuesday night. Birrote granted the request before sundown Tuesday.
"The kaporos ceremony is humanely performed in a manner consistent with federal and state animal-slaughter laws and is a centuries-old religious practice that is constitutionally protected," Chabad said in its motion.
While the judge lifted the temporary ban, United Poultry Concerns attorney Bryan Pease told Courthouse News the order will have little to no bearing on the rest of the case.
"The relative harm to plaintiff in dissolving the TRO was minimal because the Kapparot ceremonies had all concluded by [Tuesday] afternoon," Pease wrote in an email to Courthouse News. "We believe defendants conducted the ceremonies in a slaughterhouse while the TRO was in effect, which is legal and complied with the TRO if the animals were used for food."
Whether or not Chabad and Tenenbaum use the chicken for food after the slaughter is a big sticking point for the poultry group, according to its motion for the restraining order.
"Except when done for food or in connection with hunting, investigating, laboratory testing, or killing dangerous animals, none of which is the case here, the intentional killing of healthy, nonthreatening animals is illegal regardless of religious or other motivation," the group said in its motion.
Attorneys for Chabad maintain the practice is protected by the First Amendment provision related to freedom of religion.
"The United States Supreme Court has held — unanimously — that laws may not permit the killing of animals for secular purposes while singling out for prohibition the killing of animals for religious purposes," Chabad said in its motion to dissolve the restraining order.
Pease said he is confident the judge recognizes there are serious questions relating to the merits of the case and they plan to move forward with a preliminary injunction.
State court judges in Los Angeles and Orange County last year refused to issue restraining orders for the two attorneys in similar lawsuits, including one against Chabad of Irvine. That case is still headed to trial, the poultry group's other attorney David Simon said in an earlier interview, but the Los Angeles case was tossed out.
Judges also allowed kapparot rituals last year in cases brought by lawyers in New York and Michigan.
Simon said the new lawsuit was filed in Federal Court because "there's a complicated First Amendment issue here the state judges aren't willing to spend the time to understand."
He said the state judges were swayed by the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, which struck down a Florida municipal ordinance banning religious animal sacrifices.
The difference in the new case is that the California law prohibits animal cruelty by everyone, while the Florida law targeted particular religious practitioners, Simon and Pease said.