Sunday, February 18, 2018

Right to Work (It Out)

Right to Work (It Out)
   Sandra Rojas is a nurse in the Illinois Winnebago County public health system and is fighting for her job as after 18 years was fired by her new supervisor after she refused to perform abortions due to her pro-life stance on account of her Christian faith. She is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom which is fighting back against an Illinois state law called the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that “forces pro-life medical professionals- even those in pro-life clinics to refer patients for abortion and counsel as to the undefined benefits of abortion.” There are many complexities in medicine under the Hippocratic Oath in which it will be argued by Ms. Rojas that she took a pledge to “do no harm,” and if she felt abortion was harmful, she should not be forced to perform or help out in the procedure. There are violations that the county will argue that she must, as a state employee must follow the law brought down by the state but her right to free exercise outweigh the interests of the state considering how they could get another medical professional to do the procedure if she didn’t wish to do so. The court will look to weigh the issues between the state and Ms. Rojas and decide whether she was wrongfully terminated.
Being forced to provide abortions provides an undue burden towards Ms. Rojas, and the situation of her previous experience as a nurse should be a precedent. Her 18-year career under the law that granted abortions was ok until a new supervisor felt it was reasonable to terminate her due to her disagreement with the abortion law. For 18 years the county likely sent pregnant women who decided to have abortions too, medical professionals who were willing to do the procedure, while granting Rojas a religious exemption. Rojas here does not seek to challenge the abortion law however she aims to establish her rights under free exercise to personally take part in the abortion procedure while allowing others within her profession to conduct the operation. The judge in the case was correct in allowing the case to proceed after shooting down claims from the county of governmental immunity in forcing Rojas and other pro-life nurses to adhere to its new policy. The judge seems if the case makes trial will likely award damages to Rojas for wrongful termination and or grant her a religious exemption allowing her to go back to work. The judge will possibly strike down Illinois recent law called Health Care and Right of Conscience Act which now punishes Rojas and other healthcare professionals from refusing to take part in medical procedures no matter their beliefs. The new iteration of the law though was passed after she was fired and required all medical professionals to provide abortions and refer patients to abortions no matter their beliefs. Because of this Ms. Rojas and her legal team believe they have a legitimate shot at winning this case to get damages or even her job back.
   This is a critical case to medical professionals everywhere who are pro-life as the legal issue is what should be of most importance. Morally I would side with the state as Ms. Rojas has a duty as an employee of the county to follow their rules and adhere to their policies separating their beliefs for the wellbeing of the patients. However, this on legal grounds the county was wrong to terminate her and should have granted a religious exemption as it would not create a significant burden to the county to merely have other nurses assist in abortions procedures without forcing Ms. Rojas to decide between her career or religious beliefs. Rojas has established a religious opposition to all abortions and should be accommodated accordingly since the county is the procedure doesn’t have immediate life or death consequences as a nurse in the ER Trauma unit might have in which there is no time to refuse. Winnebago County fired her under there new hospital policy during which state law did not support them, and thus the judge should rule that termination was unlawful considering at the point of termination she was in adherence to Illinois law concerning the right to consciously object on religious grounds. Ms. Rojas was denied the right to serve her entire career admirably and was wrongfully terminated but if this case does go to trial expect to see the judge right this wrongful firing and award Ms. Rojas the proper dignity to finish out her career.

The Flu Shot: Medically and Religiously Imperfect

Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent report indicates the United States may be finally turning the corner on the flu epidemic, a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against a Michigan hospital regarding the flu shot still lingers. According to the suit filed by the EEOC on February 15th, 2018, Memorial Healthcare, a hospital based in Owosso, Michigan, rescinded an employment offer to Yvonne Bair to work as a medical transcriptionist because she objected to receiving the influenza shot. According to Bair, she “has a sincerely-held religious belief that, as a follower of Jesus Christ, she cannot inject or ingest foreign substances in her body and must rely on natural methods for health,” although the lawsuit never specifies her exact religion.

The hospital requires that all employees receive the flu shot during flu season. Jeff Fraser, a lawyer representing the hospital, affirmed the necessity of this shot, stating “All Memorial Healthcare policies related to flu vaccines are intended to protect patient health and safety and to prevent the spread and transmission of and complications from the flu.” Bair offered to wear a mask instead of getting the shot, however; hospital officials told her this would not be sufficient, despite their policy that allows masks for workers who cannot receive the shot for medical reasons. It is also important to note that this job would involve Bair working at home. This case follows a similar religious discrimination lawsuit based in North Carolina. In this case, a North Carolina hospital had to pay $89,000 to settle a lawsuit after they fired three workers that requested religious accommodations. The EEOC now files suit again, on the grounds that revoking employment due to Bair's religious beliefs is in violation of her civil rights. Although the EEOC is suing because of their belief that this is a violation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, this case could equally be seen as a violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In order to decipher my thoughts on this case, I turned to Sherbert v. Verner (1963), another case that simultaneously tackles the issues of free exercise in relation to employment. In this case, the appellant could not work on Saturday, as this was the Sabbath day of her faith, and she was fired. Mr. Justice Brennan justified the majority opinion of the court, which ruled that this bridged the appellant's right to the free exercise of her religion, by stating “…to condition the availability of benefits upon this appellant's willingness to violate a cardinal principle of her religious faith effectively penalizes the free exercise of her constitutional liberties.” I see Bair’s situation to be strikingly similar to Sherbert’s, as essentially the hospital is conditioning her employment on her willingness to violate her religious belief that she cannot inject foreign substances in her body. In addition, this pressures Bair to forego her religious beliefs just for the sake of securing employment.

The key difference in this case then lies in the fact that Bair’s refusal to get the shot could risk the health of other hospital employees and patients. However, because of the hospital’s policy that allows those with medical reasons to forego getting the shot and to wear masks, I believe that this is in fact a violation of Bair’s free exercise of her religion. The hospital’s difference in handling medical and religious excuses makes it clear that they are prohibiting her from working based on her religious beliefs, not health and safety concerns. If it was a genuine health concern for her to be wearing a mask instead of receiving the shot, it would be disjointed to allow other health professionals to wear masks for medical reasons. Additionally, Bair would be working at home, so she would not be in frequent contact with other employees and patients. For these reasons, I side with the EEOC and believe this is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. In the future, however; I question how they will justify excusing those with a medical excuse to wear a mask if wearing a mask is not sufficient to prevent the spread of the flu.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bloomfield Publically Promoting a Religion

On October 16, 2017, following six years of litigation, the United States Supreme Court denied thecase of Felix v. Bloomfield which was filed by the ACLU in 2012. The City of Bloomfield, New Mexico approved the creation of five-foot monument which had the Ten Commandments inscribed on it. It was located on the front lawn of Bloomfield’s City Hall, yet was privately funded. Non-Christian members of the community were outraged, believing it promoted Christianity over all other religions, making them feel inferior. A federal district court ruled the monument violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, deeming the removal of the statue. The City appealed the ruling to a Tenth Circuit Court, they also upheld the ruling. Bloomfield’s last step was to get the case taken to the U.S. Supreme Court which failed. Prior to getting the ACLU involved, Jane Felix led protests and issued a petition to the city council with about 60 signatures, in opposition of the monument. She said, “they completely ignored our petition and when we went to the city council meetings we were shot down by others verbally abusing us. During the opening ceremony for the monument, city councilor, Kevin Mauzy stated, “We want the government to leave us alone and to keep their hands off our money, our religion… God and his Ten Commandments continue to protect us from our evil.” Many thought his comments, proclaimed Christianity to be superior to any other religion, giving benefits that members of other religions would not enjoy.

Mauzy met with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to search for ways to make a court lose unrealistically. The city made a monument policy, establishing the Bloomfield City Hall lawn as a public forum to display privately funded historical monuments and placed a sign on the lawn stating, “any message hereon is of the donors and not the City of Bloomfield and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the City.” They even added the Gettysburg Address, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence to the lawn, all were placed behind the Ten Commandments.

Prior court rulings have not been consistent, in regards to displaying Ten Commandments on government property. The 2005 Supreme Court case of Van Orden v. Perry ruled, having the Ten Commandments situated outside the state capitol building was not unconstitutional because there were many other monuments in that area and it displayed the identity of a Texan. That same day, the Supreme Court ruled that it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion to have the Ten Commandments on display inside a Kentucky courthouse, leading to confusion and mixed results in lower court rulings.

I believe the original court ruling to be correct and it to be a promising sign that the United States Supreme Court denied this case, showing the importance of Church and State separation. Having a monument may not seem like a big deal, but its larger implications for what the authors of the Constitution meant when they wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Clearly showing some perforation for certain religion and the government should have no part in promoting a religion.

The only reason I was going was going back and forth with my opinion because the monument was privately funded, but some things Mauzy did and said convinced me otherwise. A question the ACLU asked Mauzy was,  Do you believe this lawsuit is an attack on your religious liberty?” Mauzy answered, “Yes, I believe I do.” If the original intent for the monument to be built was secular, then I do not understand how this one can be attacking his religious liberty. And, when asked what religion Bloomfield was endorsing, when talking to councilmen who opposed the monument, Mauzy replied, “If you don’t like living here, you can go somewhere else.” I do not like how Mauzy treated the original protesters, basically telling them their opinion did not matter, never thinking there was a chance he would lose this case, giving off the sense if you are against this monument, you will not be treated as an equal. The location of the monument, putting up the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and Gettysburg Address, behind the Commandment and not putting them up until the Commandments statue was created, clearly shows he is promoting a certain religion and that he was doing his best to cover up that fact.

For as diverse of country we are, it is becoming increasingly important to recognize diverse perspectives and noticing that if one sees something such as a Ten Commandment statue, in a public location, it can make those people feel inferior, when the intent of our founders was to ensure situations, like this, between the church and state, do not happen. The major issue now it to make sure courts are consistent with their rulings.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sticking to her Laptop

A student of Sacred Heart high school in Greenwich, Connecticut hasdrawn national attention recently for taking a stand against her Catholic High School. Kate Murray, a current sophomore at the institution, has been informed by the administration that she may not be allowed to return for her junior year at the school. Her crime against the institution: a sticker that read “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” on the back of her laptop. While it is no secret that a Catholic school (such as Sacred Heart) may not look too fondly upon Murray’s decision to promote abortion practices openly during school, there has been a movement on social media arguing that the school went too far by not allowing her to reenroll for something seeming so insignificant. Following the school’s decision to not extend an offer of enrollment for the ensuing year, a petition entitled “I Stand with Kate Murray” has been started online and has amassed over 1,500 signatures from individuals who believe that the school violated Kate Murray’s right to freely express her beliefs on the issue and that although Sacred Heart may be a private institution this was still over the line. Furthermore, many are offering the argument that to focus upon the aspect of abortion regarding Planned Parenthood is simply too narrow to reasonably consider all of the other factors that come into play. While the school may only be concerned with the fact that Planned Parenthood normally deals with issues regarding abortions, they also provide numerous other healthcare services to women such as pregnancy services, cancer screenings and mental health counseling. This case was outlined to the officials of the school through an alumni and family friend of the Murrays, Stephanie Viola, who demanded that Kate Murray be treated fairly regarding the situation. Then, when questioned about the actions taken by the school unto her daughter, Brian Murray commented “it is a really small sticker that does not seem to be able to cause that much damage to anybody.” In response to all the coverage occurring at the school, the head of the school Pamela Hayes stated that to encourage open discussion and dialogue throughout the school, the school must “discourage the displays of slogans and bumper stickers” for they can “have the unintended consequence of stifling open debate.”

            The main issue regarding this specific topic is the argument regarding the school overstepping its boundaries and stifling the freedom of speech of Kate Murray. The underlying issue regarding the religious aspect of the speech was extremely interesting and pertinent to the issue at hand. Thus the question must be raised regarding whether or not the sticker would have been perceived as offensive in a public school. Additionally, it must be questioned whether or not the school overstepped its boundaries especially when considering the fact Planned Parenthood does so much more other than provide abortions. Thus the argument can be made that Kate Murray’s freedom of expression regarding her religious beliefs could have been infringed upon by the school. The argument can also be made that stickers don’t fall under the protection of the freedom of speech clause because of the lack of clarity within the wording of the constitution. To cite the specific wording, the amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” Although it may appear as though the amendment covers the freedom of speech over all people, because congress is issuing the amendment regarding private institutions as Sacred Heart is. Additionally, the school is further protected under the ruling of Rendell-Baker v. Kohn in 1982, which determined that actions such as this one taken by a private institution require students and parents to enter into a contract in which their basic freedoms of speech are taken away.

I strongly disagree with the inability for the Murray’s to take action regarding this situation as Kate Murray had her basic rights of freedom of speech heavily infringed upon. Although the Murrays may have signed into a contract in which their daughter’s right of freedom of speech was heavily reduced the fact that she had action taken against her from the school regarding her ability to reenroll in the school for her junior year. Although Planned Parenthood provides abortions to their respective communities, the school must think more broadly about the issue and the other ways in which Planned Parenthood impacts those around them. Furthermore, the fact that the sticker did not outline any statements that directly went against the Catholic faith and Sacred Heart as an institution then there was no reason to deny Kate Murray enrollment for the following year.  Finally, I believe that for something as insignificantly small as a sticker the punishment was significantly overboard for the impact of the crime.

The Modern Day "Irish Need Not Apply"

In 2015, Raja'ee Fatihah decided to go to "Save Yourself Survival and Tactical", a gun range in Oktaha, Oklahoma.  Fatihah, a member of the United States Army Reserve and a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was denied access to the shooting range due to the fact he practiced Islam.  The business is now being accused of religious discrimination against Muslim peoples.  In response to the actions of the aforementioned business, both the national and Oklahoman ACLUs, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma Chapter filed for a lawsuit against the "Muslim Free" business.  The lawsuit insinuates that the policy of not allowing Muslim people to partake in the activities offered at the range violates both Oklahoma's non-discrimination law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not allow a business to deny service to customers based on their religion, race, or national origin.

In July 2015, the owners of the business decided to post a sign close to the front of the building that stated they were a "Muslim Free Establishment" and that Muslim people were not permitted to be at the facility.  When Fatihah arrived at the counter to fill out his liability form, he was asked to provide his name, address, and driver's license number, all of which fits in the parameters of standard operating procedure for a gun range.  However, as soon as the employees realized that Fatihah was muslim, the owners armed themselves and requested to know if he was there so to "commit an act of violence or as part of 'jihad'" in a prejudiced and unruly reaction to learning an individual's religious affiliation.

In Case No. 16-CV-58-KEW the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma has to decide whether or not Chad Neal and Nicole Mayhorn Neal are guilty in the complaint for injunctive relief and supplemental state tort relief against Raja'ee Fatihah.  Fatihah alleges that the business is explicitly segregated due to the fact that the business is generally accommodating to the general public, but has publicly posted their exclusion of Muslims in their front window.  The plaintiff has also been personally excluded from the place of business solely due to his religious beliefs.  He is also arguing that the business owners are violating his rights to equality represented in both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Oklahoma's anti-discrimination law.  The lawsuit was filed in hope of reestablishing equal access to public accommodations for all Oklahomans, and to make sure Fatihah was represented as the actions of the business were not only unconstitutional but truly unfair.

The issue at hand is whether or not the privately owned business has the right to exclude someone based on their beliefs and religious affiliation.  This case can be loosely related back to Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2017) due to the nature of business enterprises discriminating against the public consumers.  If the defendants are ruled in favor of, there would inevitably be the fear that a slippery slope of discrimination would occur and it would become commonplace for private enterprises to decide who they believe are permissible to partake in what their company offers.  The main difference between the cases is that in Cakeshop v Colorado the store owner did not want to customize a cake for a gay couple because he felt it went against his right to free-exercise, as he did not personally believe that he has to make an artistic expression under his name that was in favor of homosexuality.  However, the case has not been decided and it would not be surprising if the cakeshop owner was found guilty of discrimination.  In Fatihah's case, the business owners were not only limiting their services, but not even offering to open the doors.

In my personal opinion, I believe that the business is in the wrong, and should not be allowed to discriminate against muslim people, let alone an American citizen who has served in our military. This is a clear example of prejudice and a hatred towards a group of people, not a justifiable exclusion of a group of people.  Personal liberties, and religious equality are both ideals that must be kept intact in order to keep the principles of freedom that the first amendment and our founding fathers call for.  Fatihah is a member of the public, and the law states that the public must be accommodated for.

Private (Religious) Education Paid for by the Tax Payers of Indiana

In 2011, the Indiana State Legislature, pushed by then-governor Mitch Daniels, enacted House Bill 1003, which established an education voucher system, where the state (through taxpayers) would front the costs for students of lower income families to receive a private school education. The vouchers are given to the qualifying families once they decide where to send their children, not paid directly to the school.

At its inception, the voucher system was supposed to curb subpar education, especially for poor children, by allowing students to enroll in private schools to increase educational quality not just for the students, but for the schools as well, using free-market competition theory (as competition increases, quality must go up and price must go down). A great idea in theory, however, studies show that the desired performance results were not obtained.

In 2011, eligible families had to have a net household income of 150% the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program rate or less, and have been enrolled in an Indiana public school for at least one year. There was also a cap on the number of students that could receive this benefit, limiting its impact and amount of tax dollars spent. When Mike Pence won the gubernatorial race in 2013, the program saw a massive change. Governor Pence lifted the restriction on the number of students who could receive the voucher, increased the limit for qualifying family income, and removed the stipulation that the student must first try public school. In effect, Governor Pence was allowing for middle income families to send their children to private school on the state’s dime, which amounted to $146 million in 2017.

Another problem arose: taxpayers soon realized that the majority of private schools the children enrolled in were religiously affiliated. A whopping 98% of the schools that qualifying students enrolled in were religiously affiliated. Nowhere in the law is there a prerequisite that says the schools must be secular, nor are there any regulations on how the admissions process for the private schools can function, aside from the obvious anti-discrimination language presented in the 14th amendment. Religious institutions can admit students based on academic and behavioral records along with family lifestyle, all creating room for admissions bias on a religious basis. Per the Government Accountability Office, only four voucher programs in the U.S. require private schools to accept all voucher students, space permitting. Indiana does not have one of those four programs. In addition, the private schools can compel students to participate in any and all religious activities. Pence, a noted Evangelical Christian, has long been a proponent of this law.

As I read articles about this law, the question I kept asking myself was can the government pay for students to attend religiously affiliated schools? Answering that questions requires analyses of several cases.

Sabbath Stakeout of Orthodox Jews

Over the past two years the towns of and surrounding Jackson, New Jersey has experienced a growth in the size of the Orthodox Jewish community, creating new tensions with the changing culture of the towns. A number of complaints were filed over prayer services. Back in June 2016, the Council Vice President, serving as council president at the time, notified the code compliance supervisor noting “14 cars in the driveway” of Isaac Twail’s home.  

Isaac Twail, resident of Pitney Lane, located in Jackson, New Jersey filed a lawsuit in mid-January. Twail, an Orthodox Jew, was the subject of a stake out urged by a township council member. He alleges that the Council Vice President prompted town code enforcement officers to observe Sabbath prayer services at his home on Friday nights. Twail described this activity as harassment, claiming the presence of the officers had a “chilling effect, [and] was intimidating.”

The services at his home lasted about one hour on Friday, about two and a half hours on Saturday mornings, and about twenty minutes on Saturday evenings. However, on the Sabbath, Orthodox Jewish law prohibits the operation of machinery and turning on or off electricity, such as driving a car. Since many Jews in Jackson do not live within walking distance of the synagogues, services are held at individual homes, like Isaac Twail, explaining the large amounts of cars parked outside his home.

According to public records, the above-mentioned stakeouts were routinely criticized or outright discouraged. There were no volitions at Twail’s home, and the large groups of people did not gather on a regular basis. In addition to no code violation for maximum occupancy, there were also no noise complaints filed.

Isaac Twail was being denied his right to pray at his home by the actions of Jackson Township code enforcement—a clear infringement on his free exercise rights as granted in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Considering there were no violations of any sort, I do not think the township had any business being in, around, or outside Isaac Twail’s home, especially while Sabbath services were being conducted. Additionally, with no reported noise complaints, Twail and those attending his services were not disturbing the surrounding community, or bringing attention to themselves or their practices; they were simply observing the Sabbath as Orthodox Jewish laws suggests. Having law enforcement observe these services, to the point where Twail reports feeling intimidated is in clear violation of the First Amendment.

What are your thoughts on the stake out at Isaac Twail’s home during Sabbath services? Should code enforcement officers have the right to excersise such practices, even with no given violations?

Friday, February 9, 2018

What About The Kids

Similarly to Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Dumont v. Lyon is based on the argument that same sex couples and the LGBTQ community are being unconstitutionally discriminated against. Dumont v. Lyon is a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in September of 2017 against Michigan’s health and children’s services agencies on the grounds that the establishment clause of the first amendment and the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment are being violated by government funding for religiously affiliated adoption agencies. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division. Since, in December of 2017, there has been a motion to dismiss by Herman Mccall. Even more recently, this month, the plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit was filed in response to the Public Act 53. In the eyes of the ACLU, the act is respecting an establishment of religion. The Public Act 53 was instituted in 2015 in Michigan to protect state partnerships with religious adoption agencies, and allow these religious agencies to exercise their beliefs when screening possible parents. The ACLU claims that this act was created in a discriminatory fashion in order to prevent homosexuals from gaining rights in the adoption realm. The lawsuit in question is a result of Kristy Dumont and her wife Dana being denied as possible parents by two religiously affiliated adoption agencies in Michigan. The goal of the lawsuit is to stop taxpayer funding for religious adoption agencies that deny same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children.

The ADF is opposing the lawsuit and has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in federal court in Jan of 2018 on behalf of Michigan legislators who support the Public Act 53. Twenty-five to thirty percent of Michigan’s foster care adoptions are a direct result of religious adoption agencies. If this lawsuit wins, ADF claims that it will be “harder for thousands of foster kids to find permanent homes”. Additionally, Michigan has one of the highest national state percentages for adoption-placement rates, partially as a result from religious non-profit agencies, such as Bethany Christian Services and Michigan Catholic Charities. Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Meekhof has spoken out on this case saying, “Support of faith-based adoption does not diminish the role of all other private agencies in Michigan”.

 If you remove the impact that the ACLU winning the lawsuit would have on children in need of adoption and foster care in Michigan, I believe that the state needs to cut funding for religiously affiliated adoption programs. My opinion is grounded in the fact that Public Act 53 infringes upon the establishment clause and the equal protection clause. To top it off these organizations are being trusted to perform a service, adoption and foster care, for the general public by the government, yet the state is allowing them to discriminate against certain citizens because of their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, the decision is not so simple. There are children involved. I believe the youth should be the first priority of our nation. An ideal solution in my eyes would be Michigan figuring out a new solution for the children who would be displaced before completely cutting taxpayer funding from the religious adoption agencies.