The Department of Justice has decided to investigate Homestead Studio Suites for civil rights violations in connection with revoking hotel reservations made by Falun Gong practitioners. Despite booking reservations a month in advance of an October 2002 visit to Houston by then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin, they were denied accommodation and unable to hold peaceful appeals next door to Jiang's hotel.
Plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit against the hotel applauded the DOJ action. "The Chinese Communist Party's tentacles have reached deeply into the U.S. and worldwide in its efforts to suppress practitioners of Falun Gong from exposing the persecution in China, they said in a written statement. "We believe the USDOJ's investigation will help expose Jiang and the CCP, preventing even more serious incidents."
The group continues to hold peaceful activities to increase awareness of the brutal suppression of the spiritual practice's estimated 100 million practitioners. Besides the persecution in China, there have been on-going reports of Chinese Communist Party interference in Falun Gong activities in the U.S. and other countries.
The civil lawsuit alleges that the hotel cancelled their reservations at the request of agents of the "Office 6/10," also known as the "Falun Gong Control Office," an operative of the Chinese Communist Party.
"Kowtowing to the Chinese government."
Plaintiff attorney Richard Ellison said, "What we have in this case is a big American corporation- the Homestead hotel chain owns about 150 hotels around the country- kowtowing to the Chinese government." The lawsuit contends that Homestead violated the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against accommodation due to race, nationality, ethnicity or religion.
"There's no question in my mind that Homestead violated that statute," said Ellison.
The Justice Department action was announced by the Liberty Legal Institute, a Plano, TX-based religious liberties watchdog organization. The Institute noted in a statement that the fact that a preliminary investigation will be conducted does not necessarily mean that violations will be found. However, the Institute's Director of Litigation, Hiram Sasser, welcomed the investigation: "It is all the more refreshing to see the Department of Justice ignore international politics and place as a priority the religious freedom of its citizens."
Those who practice Falun Gong say it is a traditional Chinese practice of self-cultivation and a form of belief. While they don't call it a religion, they recognize that it falls under the category of religion for purposes of legal definition.
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