California Anti-SLAPP Statute Does Not Protect Acts in Furtherance of Free Exercise of Religion

When defendants were sued by their neighbors for nuisance arising from smoke and ash entering the neighbors’ properties from fires defendants regularly lit as part of religious rituals in their backyard, they filed a motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP statute (Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16). The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion, rejecting the defendant’s contention that section 425.16 was intended to protect acts associated with the free exercise of religion. Section 425.16 “did not import wholesale the protections of the First Amendment.” The statute mentions only two of the rights enumerated in the First Amendment — freedom of speech and the right to petition — and extending the statute to cover religious acts such as the ritual fires would run counter to the legislative intent. The California Supreme Court has issued seven anti-SLAPP decisions since the beginning of last year. Might this eventually be another? The case is Castillo v. Pacheco, 2nd Dist. Ct. of App. case no. B188991 (April 25, 2007).

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