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San Francisco judge to decide on Falun Gong lawsuit

Group alleges city discrimination

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

February 13, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Members of a spiritual practice banned in China will find out Wednesday if their claims that San Francisco is funding a discriminatory parade have any merit.

Falun Gong practitioners in the city claim in a lawsuit that they have consistently been denied entry into the annual Chinese New Year parade based on religious and political discrimination. The group claims that the use of city funds and resources for the popular event implicates the city.

The city attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the case based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that defends the right of parade organizers to include or exclude whoever they choose.

The case -- Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston -- sets a precedent that allows a private association to run a parade however they choose, according to Matt Dorsey with the city attorney's office.

But lawyers for Falun Gong say private associations become public entities once they receive public monies. They are asking for the city to divest in the parade, much like it divested in Apartheid and Sudanese interests.

"It would be an important indicator that the city stands behind a commitment to tolerance and acceptance," said Morton Sklar, an attorney for Falun Gang and the executive director of World Organization for Human Rights USA.

Falun Gong organizer Sherry Zhang described the practice as an ancient Chinese meditation and self-improvement art that resurfaced a little over a decade ago in Mainland China.

The practice became popular virtually overnight, which attracted the attention and ire of the country's leaders. It was soon banned and thousands of practitioners were tortured and jailed for their beliefs, Zhan said.

"The Chinese consular general sits on the Chinese chamber of commerce," Zhan said.

"They want to create the image that Falun Gong is not accepted around the world when in fact there are over 100 million followers. They're basically trying to repress Falun Gong everywhere."

Falun Gong has already been denied a spot in this year's March 3 parade. In the past, the group was allowed to march behind the parade or plan their own demonstrations.

"Our goal with the lawsuit is not to punish the city, we just don't want them to use taxpayer money for something The city has the power to ask the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to correct," Zhan said.

Superior Court Judge Patrick Mahoney is expected to announce whether the case will be thrown out or not on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. in department 302.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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