human rights nonsense

Human Rights Nonsense (38): A Right Not to Rise in Court

court scene


I’ve written before about exemptions to the rule of law. Some religious or indigenous groups request that certain laws, which are normally equally applicable to all citizens, should not be applied to them. For example, Sikhs have been exempted from the obligation to wear crash helmets or from the prohibition to wear knives in public; certain indigenous peoples have been exempted from prohibitions to fish or hunt or have been allowed to slaughter animals in ways which are normally illegal. And so on.

My view is that such exemptions are sometimes justifiable, especially if the risk of harm created by the exemption is relatively small compared to the benefits for the groups enjoying the exemption.

However, these things can be taken too far, as is evident from the following example:

Amina Farah Ali [not in the image above], on trial in federal court for “allegedly funneling money to a terrorist group in Somalia” (AP), [was] found in contempt of court for refusing to stand for the judge and jury.” Ali claimed that she had a right to a religious exemption. (source)

Although one can argue that the standing rule is antiquated and somewhat stupid, I fail to see how it could possible offend one’s religious convictions. In the case of Sikhs cited above, rules going against their dress code substantially burden their exercise of religion and can therefore provoke a violation of the right to freedom of religion. However, I’m not aware of any religion making it a sin to stand up before a judge.

Believe it or not, but a Circuit Court actually came down on the side of Ali:

[A]n order requiring someone either to act affirmatively in violation of a sincerely held religious belief or face criminal penalties substantially burdens the free exercise of religion. (source)

Even if we accept that remaining seated is indeed part of a sincerely held religious belief – which we probably shouldn’t – there’s a problem with this opinion of the Circuit Court. Sincerely held religious beliefs don’t always allow you to act on them, and religious freedom does not and should not always allow you to act on them. The opinion of the Circuit Court, if followed, would imply allowing actions that are much more harmful than disrespecting a judge by remaining seated. If you sincerely believe that your religion requires the beheading of apostates, then your freedom of religion as interpreted by the Circuit Court would allow you to do so. There’s no other way to read the quote above. We have here another case of people taking rights too seriously.

More posts in this series are here.


2 thoughts on “Human Rights Nonsense (38): A Right Not to Rise in Court

  1. Kindness Kills (Bob Leeds UK) says:

    If the person is an Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, or ‘member of a resident recognised faith’ then they have an obligation and moral duty to observe the custom of the land. If they wish to be awkward, deceitful and perhaps aided by the fact that they are not native born, and / or a foreign national they could insist (or pretend to insist) with all the dignity they can muster ‘that it was their religious duty or custom, or sincerely held private belief not to stand or bow before any person or body in case it offends their God’. Before doing this they need to be reminded that they are bowing to the Court and the rule-of-law and not a person as such with the Judge and other Court Officials being the Law and the nations representative/s before the hearing. Once the hearing gets underway the Judge then becomes the Judge, and he assumes office when he sits down to hear and trial the case.

    I realise this is quite a long winded explanation and others far more experienced than I have often found it best at times to whisper in the accused persons ear, ‘Stand up or we will add another 3 months to your sentence’. This is known as the quiet word in your ear approach and it can be highly effective in these situations.

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