WILL THE FIRST AMENDMENT BE UPHELD BY DC APPEALS COURT IN ITS PENDING DECISION?
Howard C. Self
President, Right To Believe
In the long annals of American jurisprudence, the “UCI Court Case” (formally known as “Hyun Jin Moon, et al v. Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International, et al.” – Case No. 20-CV-0715) presents the greatest direct affront ever to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Regardless of the pending decision by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, law students will certainly be studying this case for that reason for some time to come. Never before in history has a U.S. court gone into a religious entity (in this case, the religious non-profit, UCI) embroiled in a highly contentious religious schism (here, the volatile religious schism within the worldwide Unification Movement founded by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon) and in direct conflict with the First Amendment, decided the “correct” spiritual leader, the “correct” theology AND the “correct” structure for that religious entity! Once the DC Superior Court made those unconstitutional decisions, it then ordered the restructuring of the religious non-profit’s board while at the same time punishing severely the current volunteer directors of the UCI board with fines totaling $500,000,000! These decisions by the DC Superior Court (over a span of 10+ years) threaten to destroy the very essence of the concept of freedom of religion as the Founding Fathers delineated in the First Amendment.
The Founders rightly saw that freedom of religion is the “first of all freedoms” and as such, religious freedom based on one’s own God-given conscience, will always be the basis for all other freedoms, and therefore must be protected at all costs. The Founders remembered well that it was the quest for religious freedom that drove the Puritans and others to risk all in their perilous journey to the New Land. Today, religious rights leaders and groups are also seeing the great danger for all people of faith from this legal precedent – if it is allowed to stand. The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty and the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty filed a joint amicus brief to the appeals court, as did 10 renowned law professors from across the nation; all asking that this case be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. (See link below)
Right To Believe has been chronicling this vital case and its underlying religious schism for some time out of this same concern over religious freedom. We will continue to do so. It is our determination to provide our readers with as much information as possible on both the UCI court case and the underlying Unification Movement Religious Schism. Since both the case and schism involve much detailed information and debate, readers are encouraged to peruse the original documents themselves in coming to their own conclusions. Below you will find links to the court website for the following documents:
- The original legal filing against Dr. Moon and UCI by FFWPU (PDF)
- Summary Judgement by Judge Laura Cordero (PDF)
- Remedies Ruling by Judge Jennifer Anderson (PDF)
- Director Defendant’s (Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon) Brief (PDF)
- Director Defendant’s Reply Brief (PDF)
- Amicus Brief, The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (PDF)
- Appellant UCI Opening Brief (PDF)
- Appellant UCI Reply Brief (PDF)
- Appellees (FFWPU) Brief (PDF)
- Amicus Brief from 10 Professors (PDF)
Basic Details of the DC Court of Appeals June 17 Hearing
Prior to the live hearing, both sides presented lengthy written briefs to the appeals court that covered all of their primary arguments in the case. On June 17, 2021, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals held a two hour hearing entertaining oral arguments from both sides. You can watch the entire hearing, preserved by YouTube, at this link: (link to video). The hearing was in response to the defendants’ request for appeal following the Remedies decision by Judge Jennifer Anderson of the DC Superior Court in 2020, which shockingly directed that four of the five UCI defendants (all UCI Board Directors) be dismissed from the board and that a new UCI board be constructed in consort with the plaintiff, FFWPUI. Further, Judge Anderson imposed the previously mentioned collective fine for the four dismissed defendants of over $500,000,000 even though she had admitted that the defendants had not received ANY PERSONAL BENEFITS. Judge Anderson basically upheld and followed the Summary Judgement that had been issued earlier by Judge Laura Cordero in 2018, which violated many First Amendment protections of the defendants.
The June 17 hearing took place over the internet, due to COVID-19 concerns and was made available live to the public worldwide via YouTube. These streamed hearings are usually viewed by several hundred individuals. Sometimes, such as with a court appointment, the number of views may reach a couple of thousand. This appeals hearing was viewed by over 12,000 people to date-unprecedented in the Appeals Court’s history! This huge number of viewers is a statement on both the seriousness with which this case is being considered and also on the ongoing status of Dr. Hyun Jin Moon as a global spiritual leader. (A fact that the plaintiffs and lower court judges, in a failed attempt, had studiously strove to dismiss or ignore.)
A panel of three judges (Associate Judges Glickman, Deahl, and Becker) heard oral arguments from lawyers Michael Carvin representing the UCI Board director defendants, Derek Shaffer representing UCI the organization, and Laura Ferguson representing the plaintiffs (FFWPUI et al). The discussion was very lively, with all three judges interjecting strong questions to each side’s lawyer(s) and sharing their own views as well. In fact, the opening statement by UCI Lawyer Carvin was interrupted after only a few seconds by sharp questions from Judge Deahl. This set the tone for the entire hearing.
The June 17, 2021 hearing covered a wide range of issues that included:
- The definition (or lack thereof) of the central terms “Unification Church” and “Unification Movement”;
- The nature of the Unification Church – especially whether it is one centralized hierarchical religious institution constructed along the lines of the Catholic Church and “directed” by FFWPUI (as the plaintiffs argue) OR a loosely associated constellation of entities- a growing international and interfaith Movement of for-profit and non-profit organizations, varied humanitarian projects, businesses, sports teams, newspapers, etc.- all united under a common vision of world peace from the Founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon (as the defendants argue).
- The Unification Church’s leadership structure; (Is FFWPUI really the “head” of this large movement or just one of many non-profits? Is it even possible for FFWPUI to govern the many independent boards that help make up the Unification Movement? Is it accurate, as the plaintiffs propose that “FFWPUI” equals “The Unification Church”? Tellingly, FFWPUI has changed its own name three times during the length of this court case.) ;
- The determination of the religious purpose of donations from UCI;
- The history of UCI donation patterns to affiliated and non-affiliated entities;
- Were UCI donations to Kingdom Investments Foundation and Global Peace Foundation in line with the purposes of UCI? ;
- How does UCI advance its religious purposes and who can determine those purposes? ;
- Who leads the Unification Movement itself? (the most contested aspect of the Unification Movement’s Religious Schism) ;
- The extent of Reverend Moon’s authority over UCI and other boards while he was alive;
- The scope and implied authority of Dr. Hyun Jin Moon’s spiritual leadership role as “The Fourth Adam” and designated heir of Reverend Moon;
- Whether it was within the UCI board’s discretion to amend the religious language of the original 1980 UCI Articles of Incorporation in 2010 to reflect the changes that happened within the Unification Movement from Reverend Moon’s “End of the Church Era” directions ;
- The extent to which the religious language of the Articles was substituted with lesser or different religious language;
- Whether directors of a DC religious nonprofit are beholden to third party influence when making decisions for the corporation;
- Other assorted issues.
Just from reading through this list, one can immediately see: 1.That many of these issues are dealing with most essential religious aspects of the worldwide Unification Movement, and therefore are prohibited by the First Amendment from being decided by any U.S. court. 2.These same issues have been and currently are at the heart of the Religious Schism of the Unification Movement as a whole, and again by the First Amendment, such essential religious matters under clear contention, must be decided by the members of the religion involved; again, not by any U. S. court.
Summary of FFWPUI’s False Narrative Used Against Dr. Moon in Both the Unification Movement and in the Superior Court
One who knows even a modicum of First Amendment protections must wonder, after viewing the list above of religious topics broached in this hearing alone, how a parade of Superior Court judges could allow the case to continue. It seems that the lower court judges could do so because they “bought in” entirely to the false narrative of the plaintiffs, which was eventually admitted by their principal, Hak Ja Han, under oath to be a lie. (See below)
Adopting the plaintiffs’ views as basically their own, the judges disregarded many First Amendment considerations that can never be legally dismissed.
The plaintiffs’ false narrative was first developed by a cabal within the Unification Movement whose goal was to destroy Dr. Moon’s reputation and to usurp his organizational leadership roles AND his spiritual leadership position as “Fourth Adam”. The cabal consisted of Hak Ja Han (Dr. Moon’s mother), some unscrupulous Unification Movement leaders and three of Dr. Moon’s siblings – his younger brothers, Sean and Justin and his sister, Tatiana. The cabal’s efforts were concentrated on the central lies of denying that Dr. Moon is the true heir to his father, and to making him out to be the source of all the conflict.
Dr. Moon is described in their false narrative as being primarily a disgruntled, angry and jealous son. When his younger brother, Sean Moon, was given some leadership positions that he had held (including the leadership of FFWUPI) Dr. Moon, supposedly in a jealous rage, “stole” UCI and other entities from the Unification Church. In an ongoing concerted effort the cabal carried out a pogrom of character assassination against Dr. Moon that included many distortions, deceptions and outright lies. A couple of these nefarious efforts included concocted national lecture tours to all Movement members, depicting him as “Fallen Adam” and a fake message from the Spiritual Realm- presented first to the octogenarian Reverend Moon and other prominent leaders in a meeting in Korea, then spread to all of the Movement. The fake message, presented as having come directly from the spiritual world, advised that all positions of organizational leadership be taken from Dr. Moon and given to the youngest son, Sean. Later, after such changes were instituted, it was admitted that the source of the “spirit world message” was Dr. Chang Shik Yang, a former North American Continental Director of the Movement, and a central figure in the cabal against Dr. Moon. Lying like this to Reverend Moon and the entire Movement concerning Dr. Moon was a staple of the pogrom against him and has continued for many years. Their campaign within the Movement included bringing 30 court cases worldwide against Dr. Moon and his associates. All of these cases were either thrown out as baseless or won outright by Dr. Moon’s side…all except, until now, the 10 years old UCI case.
In the Superior Court, the cabal’s false narrative went on to say that Dr. Moon ordered the unlawful amending of the UCI Articles of Incorporation, and proceeded to make donations to organizations not approved by FFWPUI. In so doing, he wielded “improper influence” over the UCI board of directors, somehow forcing them to vote for the unapproved donations and the unlawful amendments to the UCI Articles of Incorporation. He thusly caused the failure of the UCI board to fulfill its fiduciary duty. As became evident, the false narrative depends totally on denying Dr. Moon’s role as “Fourth Adam” and instead, having him labelled as the “Renegade Son”.
The evidence against this false narrative was overwhelming. IF the Superior Court judges had done even a minimal check of the evidence provided by the defense, they would have learned many facts that totally discredited the plaintiffs’ narrative. Most important was the fact that Dr. Moon is the legitimate heir to Reverend Moon. His father had publicly recognized him in 1998 as the “Fourth Adam”. Afterwards Reverend Moon made dramatic changes within the Unification Movement based on that fact; essentially restructuring the Movement around Dr. Moon. For example, Reverend Moon gave Dr. Moon authority of leadership over all Unification members under the age of 48 worldwide. He also bestowed upon Dr. Moon the authority to perform the most important sacrament to the Movement – the Holy Blessing and Marriage Ceremony. Dr. Moon was rapidly appointed by his father to the leadership of all the major organizations within the Movement – including FFWPUI, UPF, CARP, etc. For 10 years, Dr. Moon was successfully leading the reform of the Movement based on his father’s vision and direction. It was at that point that the cabal, who were opposed to the reforms and wanted to re-establish a hierarchical church structure, hijacked several organizations and began their all-out pogrom against Dr. Moon. The hijacking was accomplished by the usurpation of his organizational leadership roles by Hak Ja Han and her bestowing those roles upon his three siblings – as a first step. The second step was that eventually all organizational leadership roles were collected under the single personage of Hak Ja Han, by her design. Soon after the passing of Reverend Moon in 2012, Sean and Justin were famously relieved of all their leadership roles by their mother. The central lie of the cabal-that Dr. Moon was not the heir and that Sean Moon was- which had been fabricated and then repeated under oath in court was now exposed. On the stand, Hak Ja Han testified under oath that her youngest son, Sean Moon, had the understanding of “a middle schooler” in terms of the Divine Principle, and was never the heir. When asked why she had then put him in charge of FFWPUI, she refused to answer.
It is now apparent that the siblings were used by Hak Ja Han as tools solely for the purpose of removing Dr. Moon from his leadership roles and to try to deny his rightful position as the heir to his father. Once those dirty deeds were accomplished, Sean and Justin were unceremoniously jettisoned. Their response was to create their own highly controversial gun-toting fringe group that marries extremist right-wing ideology with religion. (The AR-15 semi-automatic weapon is a central prop in their marriage ceremonies.) They also immediately became Hak Ja Han’s worst enemies, continuously denouncing her in the strongest terms from their pulpit and over the internet and bringing their own lawsuit against her and FFWPUI in New York.
With brash audacity, in that court case initiated by Sean, FFWPUI argued the opposite legal position from the one they maintain in the UCI case. That is, they argued in the New York court that the matters of succession and leadership within the Unification Movement were matters that could not be decided in a court of law, due to First Amendment prohibitions. In the UCI case FFWPUI pled the same position as Sean did in his case, falsely claiming that they – the FFWPUI and Ms. Han – should be recognized by the court as the only legitimate leaders of the Unification Movement. It appears that this duplicity may well have finally caught up with FFWPUI on the appeals level.
The organizational leadership roles hijacked from Dr. Moon are very small in scope when compared with his spiritual leadership role of being “Fourth Adam” and the true heir to Reverend Moon. Dr. Moon, even while under severe attack from the cabal, continued to lead the Movement’s core missions. He created numerous influential international organizations such as the award winning Global Peace Foundation in 2009 which is active in over 20 nations (“Best NGO Award” from the Civil Society Organization of Korea). A short time later, he co-created with his wife, Dr. Jun Sook Moon, the Global Peace Women organization. A major international organization, Family Peace Association was established in 2017. In Korea, Dr. Moon is the driving force behind the Korean reunification movement, providing the “Korea Dream” framework in 2010 that inspired a global movement spearheaded by Action for Korea United (AKU) which is the largest grassroots organization for Korean reunification in history. Today, AKU membership includes over 1,000 non-governmental organizations. In 2014, he published the best-selling book, “Korean Dream: A Vision for a Unified Korea” which received the Korean Culture and Arts Publication Award and continues to provide vision for the achievement of one Korean nation.
Though this list is just a fraction of his accomplishments, they make it clear that Dr. Moon is a highly effective and inspirational world-level spiritual leader. For the plaintiffs to have smeared him in court as just a “Renegade Son” is truly outrageous.
Clearly, the Superior Court judges failed in their responsibilities to examine the evidence or to adhere to the First Amendment. If they had, they never would have accepted the plaintiffs’ false narrative. The Appeals Court, on the other hand, seems to be giving much more attention to details, especially where the First Amendment is in play.
Differences between DC Superior Court and DC Appeals Court Stand Out in UCI Case
Besides the fact that the UCI case has taken over 10 years (and counting) in the DC Superior Court and was, in effect, so far handled in a two hour hearing by the DC Appeals Court, there are many other striking differences between the two courts’ treatment of the schismatic religious case. Following are five areas of differences that together imply a strong possibility for reversal of the lower court, in this writer’s opinion:
- The Impact of Third Party Amici Briefs: Unlike in the Superior Court, the Appeals Court accept amici (“friends of the court”) briefs from third parties. The briefs submitted for the June 17 hearing by the renowned religious freedom organizations –The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty and The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty– and another brief by 10 prominent law professors and scholars were unanimous in their collective opinion that the First Amendment has been seriously violated AND that the case should be dismissed on religious abstention grounds. From page 16 of the Jewish Coalition and Beckett Fund Amicus Brief we read: “The trial court could arrive at these conclusions only by ignoring the Supreme Court’s repeated admonitions to avoid taking sides in religious schisms, deciding whether a church “departed from doctrine,” or privileging certain forms of religious polity over others.”
It is impossible for the three appellate judges to ignore these amici briefs. Even if they do not agree totally with their positions, these briefs serve to put a giant spotlight on the issue of First Amendment protections for the defendants. It is obvious from the exchanges between the lawyers and judges throughout the June 17, 2021 hearing that this consideration is an overriding one….which is the opposite of the way the issue was treated by the Superior Court.
- The Strong Consideration of Dr. Moon’s Spiritual Leadership Role: As mentioned above, the Superior Court judges, in adopting wholesale the plaintiff’s false narrative, basically dismissed consideration of Dr. Moon’s spiritual leadership role as “Fourth Adam” within the Unification Movement, wrongfully and blindly accepting the plaintiffs’ framework that they are the legitimate leaders of the Unification Movement. Accepting the false narrative obviously made it easier for the judges to consider and treat Dr. Moon as if he truly were just the “Renegade Son” as FFWPUI posited, thus lessening the requirement to pay heed to his First Amendment protections. The appellate judges seemed to have taken the opposite tack, seriously discussing Dr. Moon’s spiritual and religious leadership role as the “Fourth Adam”.
It may take a year or more before the judges issue their ruling. By then, they will certainly know that nearly 12,000 viewers “tuned in” to the June 17 hearing, thus greatly reinforcing the reality that Dr. Moon is the acknowledged religious leader of many thousands worldwide, and thus all First Amendment considerations naturally apply….for him and for all of his faithful.
A striking difference has been shown in court between accepting all the problems to simply be about a “Renegade Son”, compared to assessing the legal and other problems actually engendered in an ongoing religious schism- where critical matters such as theology, leadership and structure are being weighed and fought over. The DC Superior Court is accustomed to hearing cases of small scope ie property disputes, petty crimes, etc. Certainly, they do not often, if ever, have such a complicated case before them as the UCI case where a worldwide religious schism is in dispute, with hundreds of thousands of members and billions of dollars involved. More to the point, the Superior Court does not often deal with the complex First Amendment implications of a hotly contested religious dispute. It was much easier for them to accept the “Renegade Son” story and to base all of their decisions on that narrative….much easier, but also much more erroneous and unconstitutional. It was inevitable that the truth of Dr. Moon’s actual spiritual leadership role was bound to destroy the made-up “Renegade Son” lie.
- FFWPUI Lawyer Was Made Ineffective by Restraints Imposed by the False Narrative: The necessity of following the “party line” of the False Narrative submitted in the Superior Court, appears to have made that narrative into a “double-edged sword” for the FFWPUI lawyer, Laura Ferguson, in the Appeals Court. Again and again, her responses to judges’ queries seemed repetitive and “canned”, because they relied on the narrative that always concluded with the “Renegade Son” scenario. In one answer alone, she said twice, “He (Dr. Moon) hates the Unification Church”, as if that were an established fact. While this simplistic, context-blind approach played well for her side in the Superior Court, it proved to be crippling to her arguments in the Appeals Court. It was obvious that the Appeals judges had not accepted this false narrative and wanted to hear a more reasoned and clear explanation from Ferguson- an explanation that she could never produce while stuck in the False Narrative handcuffs. The truth of the matter could finally emerge: this litigation took place within an ongoing historical religious schism in the Unification Movement. By the First Amendment, the courts simply cannot call winners and losers in determining the Movement’s leadership—it cannot favor one faction over the other or legitimize one side over the other in a religious dispute.
- UCI Lawyers Were Prepared and Effective: More than past UCI lawyers in the Superior Court in general, the lawyers Carvin and Shaffer were very strong, well prepared, and effective in the Appeals Court. This was especially true when explaining the areas where the First Amendment protections applied. At critical points both used the phrase, “This, you cannot decide!” emphatically when covering issues where a decision would have to be reached that involved a matter of religious dispute within the Schism and within the case itself. Here is UCI lawyer, Derek Shaffer: “The question that you’re suggesting would be at the center of the case is exactly what the court can never answer. And respectfully I defy your honors to look at the 1980 articles and the religious terminology and all the disputes and find some way to determine that there was some substantial deviation from them that doesn’t involve you deciding a question of theology or a question of religious succession in leadership. That is the centerpiece of the plaintiffs’ critique of the supposed changes of the 1980 articles—it’s exactly what you cannot be deciding.”
By the First Amendment, such decisions can never be made by a court. These points seemed obvious to both the defense lawyers and the appellate judges, since the judges tellingly never refuted these spoken prohibitions against improper judicial decisions that were stated by the UCI lawyers.
- The True Nature of the Unification Movement Appears to Have Been Acknowledged: It became obvious that the Superior Court judges had all accepted the plaintiffs’ false claims and distorted views of the Unification Movement as being a highly structured “church”; that FFWPUI equals “Unification Church”; and that to them, UCI is a subset of FFWPUI that should be following FFWPUI’s directions. The Appeals Court, in contrast, seemed to listen and give credence to the defendants’ view that the Unification Movement is just that- a charismatically-led spiritual movement, not a hierarchical church. At a critical point Judge Deahl said to the FFWPUI lawyer, “But that’s only true, if the Unification Church, Family Federation, are the rightful successor to the thing that was known as the Unification Church in 1980 and to make that judgment sounds to me like fundamentally entangled with religious questions.”
The ongoing controversial theological changes being instituted by Ms. Hak Ja Han make it clear that the FFWPUI of today does not represent the Unification Movement that Rev. Sun Myung Moon founded. Rather, the FFWPUI today is a very different animal with a different set of religious texts (at Rev. Moon’s deathbed, Ms. Han commissioned the censoring and revision of Rev. Moon’s sermons), object of worship (no longer calling God “Heavenly Father” as Rev. Moon did, instead introducing elements of dualism by arguing for the existence of a “Heavenly Mother”), and even a different name (FFWPUI officially announced in 2020 that it drastically changed its name, now calling itself “Heavenly Parents Holy Community”).
More troubling is the fact that the FFWPUI is claiming that it was founded in 1954- a complete and blatant lie designed to fool the judicial system into thinking that FFWPUI is somehow an entity that controls UCI. Most Unification Movement members know the truth- that FFWPUI was founded after Rev. Moon announced the completion of the mission of the church (HSA-UWC in 1994. The FFWPUI is again being deceitful- rewriting its own history hoping that judges who are foreign to the Movement will simply believe their lies and give them a legal victory. Under the clearer scrutiny of the appellate judges, that appears to be very much a false hope.
As has been mentioned before, and as evidenced by the passionate amici briefs of religious freedom organizations and experts, it is expected that the “UCI Case” will become a court case studied for its unprecedented abuse of the First Amendment. This 10+ years old case is still far from over (the Appeals Court decisions themselves often take more than a year to be issued) and, in my opinion, it may well not be finally concluded for a long time to come.
However, already the circumstances around this case call out loudly for needed reform to the U.S. justice system. As shown in the UCI case, our system of justice currently allows innocent good men and women, serving as volunteers on a religious non-profit board, to be unjustly dragged into court by a third party, where they can face many years of extremely costly and caustic litigation. When the defense for such a legal attack costs many millions of dollars, then just being brought to court is a great punishment by itself.
It is much more egregious when the third party (FFWPUI) has obviously made creating such cases the centerpiece of their religious schism strategy to personally smear and if possible, bankrupt their chief spiritual rival (Dr. Moon). The cabal against Dr. Moon misused vast sums of public assets (ie. funds donated for religious purposes) to further their litigious agenda of hijacking the Unification Movement. This is “justice controlled by illegal funds” which is no justice at all! The fact that Mrs. Hak Ja Han, FFWPUI and/or their associates had already brought some 30 other superfluous court cases against Dr. Moon and his associates worldwide should have been a red flag to the Superior Court- that FFWPUI wanted to use the court for its own nefarious purposes. The UCI case has been nothing less than the central part of a diabolical attack upon an innocent spiritual leader and his affiliates- an attack that sadly, until now, has been assisted by a U.S. court. This blatant abuse of religious freedom must never be allowed to happen again. Judicial reform is obviously needed to make it much more difficult for a third party to initiate such a devious and self-serving civil case against a non-profit board. It is time for the First Amendment and its sacred protections of religious freedom, to be reaffirmed as the cornerstone of all of our Constitutional freedoms.