Court: allow Juneteenth service at cemetery

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Formosa Plastics must allow a Juneteenth ceremony on land that archaeologists say was probably a cemetery for enslaved people when the land was a plantation, a Louisiana state judge ruled Thursday.

FG LA LLC, the local Formosa Plastics Group member that is building a $9.4 billion chemical plant complex in St. James Parish said it will ask a state appeal court to overturn 23rd District Judge Emile St. Pierre’s order.

The judge upheld an order he had handed down at the start of the week, the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a news release. The center represents groups which want to hold an hourlong prayer service late Friday morning.

“Members of Rise St. James, who are the likely descendants of those buried there, have previously visited the site to lay flowers, pray, sing, and report on the significance to the community of the cemetery,” the statement said. “Recently, however, despite state laws guaranteeing access to cemeteries, local law enforcement threatened arrest if the RISE members returned.”

Work in December confirmed that the site held graves, the statement said.

After getting no response to multiple requests to commemorate the day African Americans learned they had been freed, the group asked the court for a temporary restraining order against Formosa. The judge noted Monday that Rise St. James and the Bucket Brigade, an environmental group, don’t have to put up any bond “because important constitutional rights are at stake and Defendants will not suffer financial harm or other damages as a result of Plaintiffs’ prayer and peaceful ceremony on the cemetery which is in an open, empty field.”

FG LA said it was going immediately to the state Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

“FG’s property is an active construction site, prompting safety and liability concerns. Further, FG was not given an opportunity to be heard on the merits of the petition,” it said in a news release.

Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 that Union soldiers told enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free Americans.

Rise St. James and the Bucket Brigade also have gone to court to challenge state air quality permits and federal wetlands permits.