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Scott Warren and Emily Sander placing water in the Arixona dessert, August 26, 2019. Photograph by Jude Joffe-Blocks
Samaritans on Trial: Religious Freedom in the Borderlands
October 02, 2020
When migrants fleeing violence turn to dangerous crossings at the US southern border, they risk injury, dehydration, and death. Volunteers dropping off water and food have become targets of U.S. Border Patrol.
Scott Warren receives a blessing from faith leaders in front of the federal courthouse in Tucson AZ, prior to testifying in his own trial. June 5, 2019. Photo by Ash Ponder-
Lost Souls Need Water: A Calling to Help after Finding Human Remains October 02, 2020
Most religions teach people to help those in need. But what happens when that mandate clashes with how the government views the law? After federal prosecutors cracked down on volunteers providing aid on the border, Scott Warren faced decades in prison for following his conscience.  Producer Jude Joffe-Block brings us his story that begins in the desert near the border, not far from Ajo Arizona. 

This segment was commissioned for Sacred Steps by The Spiritual Edge between a collaborative reporting project of KALW San Francisco and the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Scott Warren. Geographer and teacher living in Ajo, Arizona.

Emily Sander lables jugs "Pure Water" to leave in the Arizona dessert for Central American imigrants..August 26, 2019. Photo by Jude Joffe-Block

Emily Sander writes "Pure Water" on
jugs in the Arizona dessert.

Photo by Jude Joffe-Block
Journalist Jude Joffe-Block. Photo courtesy Jude Joffe-Block
On Trial: The Government’s Prosecution Galvanized a Faith Community October 02, 2020
The story continues as the second federal trial inspires rallies around the country.  Faith leaders gather in Manhattan to pray for Scott Warren.  In the second felony trial, the jury acquitted Warren. In the misdemeanor case against Warren, a federal judge agreed with the defense team's argument that Warren's actions leaving water and food in a federal wildlife refuge were protected under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Warren, who identifies only as spiritual, was acquitted and the case set a new precedent.  Producer Jude Joffe-Block offers an update on how the pandemic and the current closings at the ports of entry have led to an increase in migrants seeking entry across the treacherous borderlands.

Jude Joffe-Block. Journalist fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Suzanne Goodspeed investigative journalism fellow at Northern Arizona University, and a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Journalist in New York City.
Proffessor Katherine Franke, J.D. LL.M. J.S.D. Photo courtesy Columbia Law School
A Closer Look at Religious Exemptions October 02, 2020
Offering context on religious freedom at the border is Katherine Franke, the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University and the faculty director of the law rights and religion project.  Franke wrote an amicus brief in support of Scott Warren on behalf of legal scholars in which she describes how prosecutorial bad acts in which Warren’s beliefs were mocked and dismissed warrant protection. 

Franke notes that while supporting the outcome in Warren’s trial, activists and legal observers must take note that an ideological imbalance in how the Supreme Court views First Amendment vis a vis other rights could undermine democratic secular law in a multi-faith pluralistic society.  Franke argues that the long-standing practice of reviewing claims on a case-by-case basis is being eroded by an ideological campaign to view all religious liberty rights as superseding other rights. She argues that it is an ideological imbalance that should be raised as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to hold confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Prof. Katherine Franke, J.D. LL.M. J.S.D. James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and faculty director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project. She is a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality.

You can learn more about the mission of No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes at their website.

Our theme music Breath Deep is copyright MC Yogi.

Additional music for this week’s episode by Blue Dot Sessions
licensed under Creative Commons By Attribution 4.0.