Are Immigrant Religious Practices Cultural or Criminal?

May 24, 2004

Source: USA Today

On May 24, 2004 USA Today reported, "Immigrants with roots in Africa, Asia and other non-Western cultures are winding up in America's courts after being charged with crimes for acts that would not be offenses in their home countries. In recent years, U.S. courts have been asked to decide the fates of defendants involved in animal sacrifices, ritual mutilations and other customs of foreign cultures. Some legal analysts and academics say the phenomenon should lead U.S. courts to allow defendants from non-Western backgrounds to raise a "cultural defense" when they are charged with certain crimes. Legal traditionalists blanch at the idea, and courts here traditionally have been reluctant to allow such defenses. 'We say that as a society we welcome diversity, and in fact that we embrace it,' says Alison Dundes Renteln, a political science professor at the University of Southern California and author of The Cultural Defense, a book that examines the influence of such cases on U.S. courts. 'In practice, it's not that easy.'"