Blue Springs, Mo.-The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the government can dictate the message of a Christian ministry. And a brief submitted along with the question cites a page of biblical references as authority, listing them even ahead of the U.S. Constitution, statutes and previous case law.
The idea of a forced message is among the issues that are being raised in the case involving the ministry of Daniel Chapter One, which has gone to the high court to protest the actions of the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.
The case is set for a conference before the high court on May 19, a meeting at which the justices could decide to hear oral arguments on the challenge to the government.
The core of the dispute involves the government's allegations that the ministry, which advocates for herbal and natural remedies rather than using "toxic pharmaceuticals," made promises of cures from its treatments.
The FTC's own adjudication process earlier decided that the FTC was right in attacking the organization, trying to impose massive fines and then ordering the ministry, at its own expense, to tell all of its customers that the "toxic pharmaceuticals" were the only "scientifically proven" remedies.
The original petition for certiorari was filed several weeks ago, but a new filing today includes an amicus brief from two organizations that advocate on behalf of civil and religious rights. It raises specifically the question of government-ordered messages.
"The FTC should not be allowed to force petitioners to deliver the government's message with which they disagree," said the filing by the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund and the United States Justice Foundation.
"'For to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions with which he disagrees is sinful and tyrannical.' Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1785), reprinted in 4 The Founders Constitution 84 (P. Kurland & R. Lerger, eds.: Liberty Press: 1987)," the brief cites. "This principle of 'speaker autonomy' – the right 'to choose the content of his own message' – is a 'fundamental rule of protection under the First Amendment," it said.
The issue was that the FTC, after rejecting a series of expert witness statements and deciding that the Christian ministry made claims of cures, ordered that the ministry "sign and mail a letter containing the views of the FTC, thereby forcing DCO to identify itself with a message with which it profoundly disagrees."
That not only "substantially burdens DCO's exercise of religion," but also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the petition claims.
The letter the government was demanding DCO send to its radio program listeners and others said, "[S]ome herbal products may interfere or affect your cancer or other medical treatment, may keep your medicines from doing what they are supposed to do, or could be harmful when taken with other medicines, or in high doses."
Additionally, the letter was supposed to say recipients should "talk to your doctor or health care provider before you decide to take any herbal product instead of taking cancer treatments that have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective in humans."
It was only last year when the FDA and other federal agents spearheaded a raid on the organization's Rhode Island headquarters, shortly after a federal judge refused the government's request to assess a massive fine against DCO because it refused to send the government-mandated letters to customers.
Jim Feijo, who with his wife Tricia, founded DCO in 1986, said the products are based on biblical principles, and the name comes from the chapter in the book of Daniel where the Old Testament leader refused to eat the foods of the enemies.
"We've never had a complaint, never harmed anyone, and thousands of people have told us they've been helped by our products. We've never had a lawsuit," he explained earlier in the fight.
The FTC alleges that Daniel Chapter One falsely claims its products can cure cancer.
"We never said that," said Tricia Feijo when her organization was raided. "They took a few words from one paragraph, some words from another paragraph, put them together, and said we implied we could cure cancer … their biggest complaint was testimonies of people saying they were healed of cancer."
The conflict began with a Federal Trade Commission Internet sting operation against companies that claimed they could cure cancer. According to the Feijos, 130 health products companies were targeted, and all but Daniel Chapter One reached agreements with the government.
"They ordered [us] to tell our customers there is no science behind our products, that only conventional medical treatment has been proven safe and effective in humans. We know from experience that chemotherapy and radiation are not safe," said Jim Feijo.
"We told them we can't comply, because there is scientific evidence in favor of our products. They wanted us to give in to their position of scientism and deny our religion of faith in the Lord Jesus.
"They acknowledged that we are a ministry, but then they denied all our rights as a ministry, all our constitutional rights," Feijo added. "We are a corporate soul, a 508 corporate soul. We have same legal status as the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches."
The brief from the CLDEF, which is a legal defense organization dedicated to the application of biblical principles, and the USJF, which is a public interest firm fighting for First Amendment rights, explained DCO is a "Christian house church" that runs a healthcare ministry based on "spiritual gifts, education, training and experience of its founders, James and Patricia Feijo."
"DCO uses the Internet, publications, speaking engagements around the country, and a daily radio show to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the healing qualities of DCO products."
Those products are conventional herbal remedies as well as products that have resulted from "the combined legacy of 6,000 years of the use of herbs and nutrition…"
The problems began in 2008 and DCO "came under attack by the federal government for offering to the public these scripturally-based and historically proven dietary supplements as an alternative to 'conventional' medicine – such as chemotherapy and radiation oncology.'"
"The FTC developed a theory that DCO was misleading the public solely because DCO had not tested any of its natural dietary supplements by controlled clinical studies of the kind conducted by the FDA…" the brief explains.
"The FTC ignored DCO's contentions that: (1) there is no health or safety reason to test a nutritional supplement as one would a toxic pharmaceutical drug, and (b) most food supplements cannot be patented because it is financially impossible to meet the test established by the FTC."
The brief said, "The FTC applied an erroneous legal standard, exercising jurisdiction over a religious ministry on the sole ground of the mere receipt of income, rather than upon the statutory requirement that such income be in excess of that which is required to carry out the ministry's nonprofit activities. Such a fundamental error intruding upon a nonprofit religious organization should not go uncorrected.
"And, in ordering DCO to convey the FTC's healthcare views, DCO's First Amendment right to 'speaker autonomy' and the protections afford it by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were ignored, constituting fundamental errors overlooked by the court of appeals, and warranting this court's review."