Deplatforming Religion: When Social Media Prays

Whose side are you on?: Part 1

Has anyone yet considered whether the bans through Facebook, Twitter, Amazon/Parler, etc. restrict the religious freedoms of the American citizens impacted? That is an argument pressed by WeChat users in federal court, who cherish their access to the app for maintaining connection to family and business in mainland China, as well as for organizing religious expression. Photo by Karsten Winegeart. Follow @ karsten116.

SEE: “U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Donald Trump (President of U.S.) and Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce),” Plaintiff’s Opposition to Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Feb. 1, 2021).

EXCERPTS FROM COURT FILING: To date this litigation has focused largely on issues of free expression and the separation of powers, but it is and always has been a case about racial discrimination and religious freedom as well.

Possessing no evidence whatsoever that WeChat shares U.S.-based users’ information with Chinese authorities, President Trump and Secretary Ross demanded nothing less than a complete ban on the app, ostensibly to protect American national security. They continued to insist on a wholesale ban despite proposals by Tencent Holdings Ltd. (“Tencent”) to mitigate the government’s stated concerns about national security and even after their own cyber-security agency recommended a far narrower prohibition on the use of the app by government employees and critical infrastructure partners. . . .

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) “prohibits the ‘Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability’ unless the Government ‘demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.’” Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682, 705 (2014). . . .

Here, the Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) plausibly alleges that the WeChat ban substantially burdens Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion. For example, the SAC explains that WeChat is “used by individuals and groups — including churches — for religious and cultural purposes, including: group prayer, organizing for holidays and events, taking care of the poor, sick and infirm, and education.” Plaintiff Bao and other Chinese-speaking WeChat users also rely on WeChat to participate in Bible study groups and other church gatherings.

Indeed, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, WeChat “is the only way” that Plaintiff Bao and many other Chinese-speaking congregants in the United States participate in religious gatherings, and if WeChat is shut down or otherwise rendered unusable in the United States they will be prevented from participating in activities that their religion requires. The SAC further alleges that WeChat provides Chinese-speaking users in the United States with a means of organizing and celebrating religious and cultural holidays14 such as the Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Ching Ming Festival, and the Duan Wu festival, and that Plaintiff Bao and other WeChat users rely on WeChat to learn about and celebrate these and other religious and cultural events. . . .

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged a “substantial burden” on their exercise of religion because they cannot personally be the target of an enforcement action under the Identification, which expressly prohibits only “business-to-business” transactions. . . . If WeChat shuts down or is rendered unusable in the United States because third-party businesses are prohibited from providing WeChat with the technical services it needs to function, Plaintiff Bao’s ability to practice his religion will be burdened to the exact same extent as it would be if the government simply prohibited Bao himself from using WeChat.

SEE: Customer Complaints: How to Avoid Discrimination Claims from Your Clientele, Fisher Phillips (Defense Law Firm for Corporations) (Dec. 31, 2018)

EXCERPT: [One of three] source[s[ of public accommodation discrimination lawsuits is state law. Only five states in the country do not have any statewide laws regulating discrimination in public accommodations other than for disability. Every other state’s law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and gender.

SEE: The Right to Refuse Service and Its Implications on Society, “Juris”: Duke University’s Undergraduate Law Magazine (Oct. 22, 2018)

EXCERPT: Discrimination laws can vary greatly across the United States. In June 2018, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was turned away when trying to dine at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, VA. Sanders was turned away by the restaurant due to her political affiliation with the current presidential administration. The Virginia Human Rights Act does not protect consumers from political affiliation discrimination. Therefore, the restaurant did not break any federal or state law when refusing to serve Sanders. [By contrast], if a restaurant located in the District of Columbia were to deny Sander’s entry due to her political affiliation, the restaurant could face a civil rights lawsuit. The discrimination of political affiliation is specifically forbidden in the DC Human Rights Act of 1977.



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INVESTIGATIVE, ILLUSTRATED & AFFORDABLE PUBLISHING about government influence in citizens’ lives. We ask. We tell. We push. WWW.3PMONLINE.COM