Legal Opinion by Attorney Shakespear N. Feyissa — ESFNA grossly misunderstood or misinterpreted its own by-laws when it comes to inviting Judge Birtukan Midekssa as its guest of honor. Also, ESFNA either intentionally, or, unintentionally misread, misstated, and misquoted its non-profit status. Sadly, the organization is using its by-laws and its non-profit status as a pretext to unfairly preclude and block the invitation of Judge Birtukan Midekssa. Since ESFNA no longer posts its by-laws or governing law, quite conveniently to avoid challenges, it’s very difficult for one to ascertain what the exact wording of the provisions in the By-law, if any, that the organization now claims justifies not inviting Judge Birtukan. I am certain that ESFAN’s by-laws, unless it’s misinterpreted or is broadly vague, does not contain any provision that states ESFNA cannot invite a political party leader or high officials in a political party for its annual events. If indeed such provisions exist, then it’s fundamentally wrong and is inherently flawed, because being a political party leader and attending an event, a gathering, or a meeting does not automatically mean the inviter endorses, promotes, or supports the invitee’s political view or beliefs.
For instance, ESFNA annually invites Senators, Congressman, Governors, Mayors of the host city, and other elected and non-elected officials. This is undisputed fact. Also, all the elected officials who come and speak at ESFNA events have political affiliation, have a political party – Democrats, Republicans, or independents, or other, and hold leadership positions in their respective political parties. I recall in the summer of July 2008, ESFNA made unsuccessful effort to get then candidate Obama to come and speak at an ESFNA event. Consequently, when we have many politicians, elected officials, party leaders come and speak, and are invited as guests of honors, why is it that the first Ethiopian woman to lead a major political party is barred from being invited? Does the ESFNA by-law and/or their “non-profit” status permits them to discriminate between Ethiopian politicians versus American politicians based on National Origin?
I am of the opinion that both the ESFNA by-laws and the non-profit status do not openly allow ESFNA to discriminate against two similarly situated individuals or groups based on their immutable characteristics. Therefore, ESFNA should be ill advised to contend that “our non-profit status”, which I believe is issued by the Federal Government, gives them permission to discriminate. ESFNA should review and re-review the terms and conditions of its non-profit status, if any, to ascertain if they are indeed allowed to bar a speaker simply on the basis that she leads a political organization, and, she happens to be Ethiopian, not American.
I would like to assure ESFNA that the mere fact of having Judge Birtukan, or President Obama, or Congresswoman Maxine Waters, or Mayor Greg Nickles (former) does not make them violate their oath, by-laws, or any Federal government given status as non-political organization. In fact, unless ESFNA openly endorses the speakers view, political belief, party affiliation, and encourages its members or attendees to do the same, the personal opinion and belief of the speaker remains just that-personal belief and opinion. For instance, if ESFNA begins to say as an organization it support the UDJ (Unity for Democracy and Justice party), all our players, guests , sponsors, and members should follow our lead and join and support UDJ, then that is clearly qualifies them as being political. Short of that, ESFNA should not be concerned about being labeled, if that is the right word here. Similarly, let’s see another illustration, as long as ESFNA does not have a banner, poster, and issues free t-shirts that say: “we are all Orthodox, we are all Christians”, so should you! Unless it engages in blatant acts, it is not endorsing or promoting one religion over another just because majority of its players, boards, or guests prefer certain religion. The point is, it takes a little more than simply giving guests a podium for few minutes, hours, or even days for ESFNA to meet the criteria of endorsing, supporting, and promoting a political party or a religious following.
Therefore, ESFNA should examine its principles of non-political and non- (fill in the blank) stand, and apply it to each situation and facts prior to overturning the will of its players through their respective representative. There is substantial evidence to justify, pursuant to ESFNA’s tradition and mission, upholding the invitation of Judge Birtukan Midekssa because of her personal struggle and sacrifice to better Ethiopia (not only for UDJ members and supporters, but for all Ethiopians), being a young single mother and standing up for principle against adversity, and her vision, courage, and conviction to see a democratic Ethiopia should, at minimum, earn her a brief moment in being a guest of honor among Ethiopians who love her.
In sum, I fail to see any factual or legal grounds in defense of ESFNA’s position to exclude The Honorable Judge Birtukan Midekssa as its guest of honor in its upcoming event. In fact, the lack of any reason, law, and common sense of ESFNA’s current stand to dis-invite Judge Birtukan Midekssa may carry a far reaching public-relation and a serious legal consequences for the organization. I strongly recommend and advise the ESFNA Executive Committee to immediately re-examine its decision and reverse its current unjust, unwarranted, and unmerited action.
I am confident that ESFNA will heed the call and appeal of Ethiopians in and out of Ethiopia and immediately repeal its denial of Judge Birtukan Midekssa’s deserving honor as an esteemed citizen of our nation – Ethiopia. ESFNA should not arbitrarily take away Judge Birtukan’s honor, and the right of all those who voted to invite her by giving petty excuses that have no grounds in fact or in law. Let’s hope that ESFNA will avoid making major historical error, and committing grave injustice of depriving a great woman her rightly place, privilege, and honor.