Thursday, August 8, 2013

How Do We Know A Business Has Sincere Religious Beliefs - Religious Liberty and the Courts

Rick Garnett highlights a very interesting case out of Indiana involving a Nigerian employee that got fired after having to attend his Father's funeral . According to the plaintiff the failure to participate at this rites would have some dire consequence. Those included that he and his family members would suffer at least spiritual death if they did not attend.

I think this case gives us some guidance not only as employees but as had been in the news lately the accommodation and religious liberty rights of EMPLOYERS and business owners. More on that after the excepts from the Court opinion .

An interesting defense by the company was the employee actually did not believe in these beliefs ( that appear to be  mixture of Christianity and of customs  /practices . beliefs of his native village ) but just wanted to fulfill a son's filial duty to his father which was not protected under the law.

The Court said:

The evidence presented by Adeyeye and discussed
below is sufficient to show that Adeyeye’s religious
request to attend his father’s funeral in Nigeria so that he
could perform specific rites, traditions, and customs
was borne from his own personally and sincerely held
religious beliefs. That is to say, a jury could find that
for Adeyeye to observe his religion appropriately,
it was necessary for him to participate in the burial ceremonies.
Adeyeye has argued this from the beginning,
so challenges to his evidence on this element focus
on whether or not Adeyeye’s claim that his religion
compelled him to participate in the burial rites was
in fact sincere.

In our view, the issue is Adeyeye’s sincerity, but that
does not require a deep analysis of his conscious
and/or subconscious reasons or motives for holding
his beliefs. As Adeyeye’s counsel aptly noted in oral
argument, the prospect that courts would begin to
inquire into the personal reasons an individual has
for holding a religious belief would create a slippery
slope we have no desire to descend.

Has the plaintiff
had a true conversion experience? Is he following
religious practices that are embedded in his culture and
family upbringing? Is he making Pascal’s coldly rational
wager to believe in God based on his self-interest?
These questions are simply not an appropriate or
necessary line of inquiry for courts. We are not and
should not be in the business of deciding whether a
person holds religious beliefs for the “proper” reasons.

We thus restrict our inquiry to whether or not the
religious belief system is sincerely held; we do not
review the motives or reasons.

Later on in the opinion:

Under Title VII’s broad and intentionally hands-off
definition of religion, such beliefs and practices are protected
from discrimination. “A personal religious faith
is entitled to as much protection as one espoused by
an organized group.”
Vinning-El v. Evans, 657 F.3d 591,
593 (7th Cir. 2011).

 It is not within our province to
evaluate whether particular religious practices or observances
are necessarily orthodox or even mandated by
an organized religious hierarchy. “Courts should not
undertake to dissect religious beliefs because the
believer admits that he is ‘struggling’ with his position or
because his beliefs are not articulated with the clarity
and precision that a more sophisticated person might
” Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment
Sec. Division, 450 U.S. 707, 715 (1981).
Title VII and courts also do not require perfect consistency
in observance, practice, and interpretation when
determining if a belief system qualifies as a religion or
whether a person’s belief is sincere. These are matters
of interpretation where the law must tread lightly.
in this sensitive area, it is not within the
judicial function and judicial competence to inquire
whether the petitioner or his fellow worker more
correctly perceived the commands of their common faith.

 Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.”
Id. at 716; see also Grayson v. Schuler, 666 F.3d 450, 454–55
(7th Cir. 2012) (“[A] sincere religious believer doesn’t
forfeit his religious rights merely because he is not scrupulous
in his observance; for where would religion be without
its backsliders, penitents, and prodigal sons?

I think this is good guidance and indeed helps illuminate some objections we hear in cases involving Employer rights. The Court of course must still make sure their is no blatant fraud . As Prof Garnett notes : " The “sincerity” inquiry functions as a filter, to weed out sham and disingenuous claims for accommodation, but it is not supposed to authorize a judicial inquiry into the genealogy of a claimant’s religious beliefs. "

For instance if Walmart decided it had religious objections to providing blood transfusions via the Affordable Care act  the Court would rightly be leery.

But we see these issues relating to same sex marriage and forcing some employers to provide services for these weddings. The common response is well what do they think about DIVORCE ! The argument being if if they provide services for non annulled second marriages then they have no defense to not providing services for a same sex wedding.

Notwithstanding the fact that there are various theologies relating to remarriage and divorce it appears such arguments are not the roadblock some envision.

Further its not likely the in ever conflicting world of medicine and " rights"  a employee nor a employer objection to providing a certain medical procedure can be tossed aside by their  lack of adherence to some part of the Catechism or irregular at times Church attendance.

The circuit court I think gives us some guidance in these matters in how they apply the law to this fact pattern.

No comments: