New York’s Top Court Rejects Suit Seeking to Bar Religious Practice of “Kaporos”

The New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, has affirmed an appellate court
decision dismissing a lawsuit seeking to bar the religious practice of “Kaporos” that is performed
in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Kaporos is a Jewish ritual practiced by some ultra-Orthodox. It dates back to biblical times and
occurs once a year, the few days immediately preceding the holiday of Yom Kippur. Adherents
of Kaporos believe this ritual is required by religious law and that it brings atonement and
redemption. The ritual entails grasping a live chicken and swinging the bird three times overhead
while saying a prayer that symbolically asks God to transfer the practitioners’ sins to the birds.
Upon completion of the prayer, the chicken is killed in accordance with kosher dietary laws, by
slitting the chicken’s throat. Its meat is then required to be donated to the poor and others in the
community. Each year, thousands of chickens are sacrificed in furtherance of this ritual and the
practice takes place outdoors, on public streets in Brooklyn, and in full public view.

The plaintiffs, including the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, alleged that the manner in
which Kaporos is practiced is a health hazard and cruel to the animals. They sought a writ of
mandamus compelling the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), the commissioner of
the NYPD, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“DOH”) to
enforce certain laws related to preserving public health and preventing animal cruelty.
The trial court dismissed the proceeding against the city defendants and, last year, an appellate
court affirmed.

Now, the New York Court of Appeals has issued a decision in Alliance to End Chickens as
Kaporos v. New York City Police Dept. affirming the appellate court’s decision.
The Court of Appeals explained that a writ of mandamus is “an extraordinary remedy” available
only “to enforce a clear legal right” where a public official has failed to perform a duty enjoined
by law.

Mandamus, the Court added, only may issue to compel a public officer to execute a “legal duty”
and may not direct how the officer shall perform that duty.

Because enforcement of the laws cited by the plaintiffs would involve “some exercise of
discretion,” mandamus was not the appropriate vehicle for the relief they sought, the Court

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