Appeals Court Rules Religious Test Improper in Asylum Case

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Lei Li, a Chinese Christian whose request for asylum in the United States was denied by an immigration judge in 2005, should be given another chance.

Lei, who became a Christian in 1999, said he was persecuted in China for practicing his faith. He claims he was arrested and beaten “for hosting an underground Christian church in his home.” After his release from police custody, Lei says he lost his job. In 2001, he came to the United States on a visitor visa—but he violated its terms by working.

In 2003, Li applied for asylum in the United States. He filed a petition for withholding from removal under the Convention Against Torture. In 2005, immigration judge Renee Renner rejected Lei’s petition for asylum because she felt he hadn’t answered “basic” questions about Christianity correctly. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Renner didn’t have evidence to make such a judgment.

“To bolster her finding that Li was evasive, inconsistent and lacked of documentary proof of his Christian beliefs, the immigration judge pointed to the fact that Li thought Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday and that he had scant knowledge about the differences between the Old and New Testaments.”

The appeals court, however, ruled that Lei “is in good company” if he thinks that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday and noted that both Presidents Washington and Lincoln cited God in their Thanksgiving proclamations. The court added, “Millions of native-born American Christians undoubtedly think of Thanksgiving as a Christian holiday.” The court also found that Lei’s answer about the Bible provided “scant evidence” about his lack of Christian faith. In the ruling, Judge Alfred Godwin wrote that an immigration judge’s “perceptions of (an applicant’s) ignorance of religious doctrine is not a proper basis for an adverse credibility finding.”

The appeals court reversed the immigration judge’s denial of asylum and sent the case back for a second look.

Courthouse News Service
Huffington Post
San Francisco Chronicle

12 thoughts on “Appeals Court Rules Religious Test Improper in Asylum Case”

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the explanation. I was raised as a Lutheran (the least conservative of the different varieties) and once every few years, I go to one of the local college’s non-denominational service at Chrismas. Having said this, I find that it all runs very deep — I still “tear up” at Christmas, just as I did when reading your explanation. Go figure…

  2. anon nurse:

    In traditional Catholic theology, despair is regarded as a rejection of God’s mercy through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit and a bar to the forgiveness of sin. At least that’s what I remember.

  3. Mike Appleton wrote:

    “Therefore, it is absurd to believe that there is some sort of universal test which can be used to determine whether a particular individual is a Christian.”

    I agree.

    “7. Why is despair considered the one “unforgivable” sin?”

    (Oh, my… I could be in serious trouble…)

    Seriously, though, what’s the answer?

  4. The decision by the immigration judge was wrong on many levels, beginning with the arrogant assumption that she was qualified to even define the “basic” tenets of Christianity. First, Christianity is not a religion; it is a family of religions with great variations in doctrine, biblical interpretation and ritual. Indeed, there is not even agreement among Christians regarding what should be properly included among the canonical books of the Bible. Therefore, it is absurd to believe that there is some sort of universal test which can be used to determine whether a particular individual is a Christian.

    But since Judge Renner holds herself out as having some qualifications in the matter, allow me to ask her to answer the following questions from my own particular religious tradition:

    1. What are the names of the seven sacraments?
    2. What is sanctifying grace?
    3. What are the three types of Baptism?
    4. What is the difference between mortal sin and venial sin?
    5. What is the heresy in the doctrine of justification by faith alone?
    6. Explain the proofs for the existence of God described in the Summa Theologica.
    7. Why is despair considered the one “unforgivable” sin?

    Since we come from a similar background, I’m sure rafflaw can pass this test.

  5. I wonder if the judge in question bothered to look up the definition of Christian.

    It has nothing to do with knowledge of the Bible.

  6. If the Federal Government is going to get into the business of religious testing, let’s start with Congress. How many Republicans who claim to be Christians are following the teachings of Jesus in their legislating? How many of them are there to serve the rich? How many of them will work to help the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless? How many of them will stand up and say “NO!” and vote NO when their fellow Republicans try to cut Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Benefits, Veterans Benefits, Food Stamps and other programs that help the powerless live in dignity without having to live in fear every day of their lives? How many of them ask themselves when they vote,”What would Jesus do?”.

  7. For over a millenia the Catholic church co-opted secular celebrations and non Christian gods and spirits claiming them for the Christian God.

    Also, considering Li comes from a country where Christian teachings are literally and figuratively far removed from Eurocentric Christianity, how closely should he be held to the dog whistle terms of the modern European versions of the Bible.

  8. This immigration judge needs to go back to the real world. I was born and raised a Catholic and there is alot about the Bible that I don’t know. We were only taught the New Testament in Catholic grade school so if I was asked questions on the Old Testament I would fail also. Hell, I don’t know if I would still remember the New Testament enough to pass this judge’s test!

  9. And all Christian Holidays/Celebrations are based on acts of Christianity……yeah baby….we’re all in trouble….if this is true….murder, mayhem, lying, deceit are more accurate….

    So Moses tied his ass to a tree and walked 2 miles away…..Rnglish easiest language to learn…

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