A federal jury found Amina Farah Ali guilty in October of 12 counts of providing material support to al-Shabaab, a designated foreign terror organization operating in Somalia, and one count of conspiring to do so.
In addition, a federal district judge cited Ali for contempt for repeatedly refusing to stand when the court convened and recessed, as required by a pretrial order. The judge sentenced her to five days in jail for each citation, for a total sentence of 100 days.
Ali said her right to the free exercise of religion was a justification for refusing to rise.
She appealed the 20 contempt citations, saying they violate the federal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The panel affirmed the first contempt citation, but threw out the others and sent the case back down for rehearing.
"Because the district court applied only a First Amendment analysis, it never evaluated whether the pretrial order [to rise] was the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling government interest, as required by RFRA," the appeals panel opinion said. "Ali concedes that maintaining order in the courtroom is a compelling government interest."
The panel sent the case back to the judge "to evaluate whether the pretrial order was the least restrictive means to further that or other compelling interests. In making this evaluation, the district court [judge] must reach a balance between maintaining order and avoiding unnecessary and substantial burdens on sincere religious practices."
Ali and her co-defendants are awaiting sentencing on the main charges.