CNMI Government Accused of Violating Constitutional Rights of Religious Group

Photos by Itos Feliciano ©2007

March 12, 2009

The Marianas Variety reports that followers of Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) Saipan have been barred from displaying the banners and performing ritual movements or exercises.  The practice is based on ancient Buddhist teachings. The four sets of gentle  movements similar to Tai Chi and the meditations are said to have deep inner meaning and also improve health and fitness.  It is guided by the three principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. There are said to be 70-100 million followers of the practice that is banned in China. Thousands of followers have been subjected to severe human rights violations.

From the Variety:
Xiaoping Chen, a member of the Falun Dafa Association of Saipan and the recipient of the CNMI’s most outstanding visual artist award, said the Department of Public Lands stopped them from assembling on Banzai Cliff in Marpi.

Chen opened the “Truth Compassion Tolerance” International Art Exhibition at the Phoenix Art Gallery in Garapan on Monday.

Chen said DPL Secretary John S. Del Rosario Jr. rejected their group’s request to use a portion of public land for displaying Falun Dafa posters, banners, booklets and handouts.

“We’ve been doing our exercises on Banzai Cliff for many years,” Chen said.

But DPL said the government has no record that Falun Dafa has been allowed to use any portion of public land on Banzai Cliff.

In a Feb. 11, 2009 letter, Del Rosario said a recent site inspection conducted by DPL’s compliance staff revealed that the group was displaying two banners on their vehicles in the area.

DPL gave the group 30 days to remove all their structures and personal properties on Banzai Cliff.
Attorney Mark Hanson who represents the group responded to del Rosario's letter stating that the DPL could not prohibit the group from gathering. The CNMI government would be breaking the First Amendment of the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
According to the Variety, in 2007 Attorney Hanson filed an Open Government Act request with the Governor's Office to determine whether there was an agreement between the CNMI and the Chinese government in "dealing with the Falun Gong," which is banned in China. He did not receive a reply.  Why not? Isn't it a law that a reply must be made within ten days to an Open Government Act request?

From the Variety:
Hanson said while the CNMI government can limit to a certain extent the activities of Falun Dafa, it can’t prevent its practitioners from their peaceful assembly as long as they acquire a permit.

The group, he said, performs meditation exercises.

“That isn’t bad,” he added.

Yesterday, Chen said they will again ask DPL for a permit to temporarily use some portion of the public land on Banzai Cliff for their activities.

Hanson said if DPL again rejects the request then he will find a legal recourse to address the problem.

In previous years, Hanson said the Marianas Visitors Authority also tried to restrict the group from assembling at the Garapan street market.

Prosecution of the Falun Dafa believers in China started in 1999 . This timeline follows the human rights abuses. It is truly disturbing.  From the timeline:
March 2006
A woman who had worked in a Chinese hospital and a Chinese journalist step forward to reveal that Falun Gong practitioners in northeastern Sujiatun are being killed by the thousands for their organs. As evidence from investigation mounts in the following weeks, a Chinese military doctor comes forward to reveal that the atrocities are taking place throughout the country.

July 2006
Former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and international human rights attorney David Matas release a report with evidence showing that harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners in China appears more widespread than previously thought.

March 2007
The number of documented cases of Falun Gong practitioners in China killed as a result of the persecution surpasses 3,000. Estimates place the number of actual deaths at many times higher.
It is hard to believe that on U.S. soil that the Falun followers would be denied the opportunity to gather to practice their religion.  Where is the outrage?

For more information on the persecution of Falun Dafa members go to these sites:

Friends of Falun Gong USA
Falun Gong Human Rights Working Group
Between Heaven and Earth


Anonymous said...

Constitutional rights? give me a break.. they are setting up shop at Banzai on public land without any permit.. imagine if the government just allowed all to do as they please without having to go through a permitting process.. can you imagine what Saipan would look like.. you can't just pick a Public area and make it your permanent home without approval.. how fair is that to the other existing groups.. and if every group decided to set up shop, you would have a disaster at Banzai.. you need to go down there to see what they had setup.. don't just read the papers.. I visited Banzai many times and thought the same thing.. They need to go through the proper steps (including zoning) to insure that things are kept in check... having a tv playing videos of torturing at Banzai, banners set up all over the place.. again, imagine if 1,000 other organizations decided to do the same without a permit... Good for Public Lands for finally taking control..

Anonymous said...

Setting up shop is one thing, going somewhere to gather and exercise is another. What are the rules of the street market? Who can set up shop there?

Anonymous said...

They are setting up shop on public lands. They are putting up banners and posters on public lands. If one religious group has that right then every group has that right...

The 1st Amendment has nothing to do with setting up shop on public or private land, just that they can practice their religion. Let them practice it without the need for banners to tell everyone who they are.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, a banner! Not a banner! Heaven forbid there be a sign or banner posted temporarily on any public land!

Anonymous said...

I run by there twice a week and I have never seen a banner or any signs. They must take them away when they go. What's wrong with that?

More information needed said...

The Noni above has a point. What's wrong with that? Do other groups need a permit to go to Banzai? Do tour groups need a permit? Do tour buses have advertising on them? What is the difference between an banner and writing on a bus? The banners leave when the Falun Dafa members leave.

Can they set up at a public beach or request time at American Memorial Park? Did they attempt to get permits for other places designated as public lands? What are the regulations for permits?

The article said, "In previous years, Hanson said the Marianas Visitors Authority also tried to restrict the group from assembling at the Garapan street market." Why? Does the MVA regulate the street market or does DCCA? Did visitors find the members objectionable? Chinese tourists? Maybe they don't like seeing that people tortured by their own Chinese government in China are free here in the CNMI? What's the real story?

ACLU member said...

Sidewalks, streets, and parks are what are known as traditional forums and “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public, and time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.” Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 515 (1939). The government cannot deny the public access to a traditional public forum nor can it regulate use of the forum based on the content of one’s speech. Perry Education Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983). However, the government is permitted to impose “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions” within a public forum so long as the regulations are “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” Id. In short, the government may set reasonable rules in a public forum, but those rules can be no more expansive than is necessary to accomplish the government’s purpose and such rules cannot be used to completely deny access to the traditional public forum.

Thus, the government may be able to prevent protesters from completely blocking a thoroughfare to traffic, such as a street or sidewalk, but cannot curtail any more speech than is necessary to accomplish that goal. Similarly, government can regulate use of sound amplification equipment, such as limiting the decibel level and requiring a permit, but would normally not be able to bar use of amplification equipment entirely. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989).

life liberty happiness said...

The CNMI should make no law that abridges the rights to free speech, free press, freedom of religion, and the freedom to assembly.

stop the discrimination said...

Leave these people alone. There is no reason not to give them a permit. Do Christians need a permit to hike up Mt. Tapochao on Easter? If they are given a permit then give one to these peaceful people.

Anonymous said...

The CNMI lawfully lets these folks do their thing every single Thursday at the Garapan street market.

Why is the federal government limiting what they can do at American Memorial Park?!

Anonymous said...

The NMI can not stop them from participating in the street market can they? Are you saying that they asked for a permit for AMP and were refused or are you just throwing that out?