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On The Front Lines

The Rutherford Institute Defends the Right to Religious Expression in the Workplace

CHICAGO, Ill.--Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a responsive brief to the state of Indiana's appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in two cases involving religious discrimination in the workplace. The plaintiffs in the cases, Benjamin Endres and Patricia Holmes, charged their state employers with violating their constitutional right to religious expression in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The state of Indiana moved to dismiss both cases, claiming that the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution prohibits private religious discrimination suits against states in federal court under Title VII. In their responsive brief, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that under the Fourteenth Amendment the state of Indiana cannot "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" and that Eleventh Amendment immunity does not prevent Endres and Holmes from making claims of religious discrimination by state employers under Title VII.

In March 2000, the Indiana State Police gave state trooper Benjamin Endres a one-year assignment as a gaming commission agent to the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind. Both before and after receiving the assignment, Endres told his supervisors of his sincere religious objection to working on the riverboat. He felt it would convey the message that he condoned the riverboat casino's gambling and drinking activities. Rutherford Institute legal staff informed the Superintendent of the Indiana State Troopers of Endres' right to accommodation, but the State Police Department made no effort to accommodate Endres and fired him for insubordination after an administrative hearing.

Likewise, Patricia Holmes, an employee at the Marion County Office of Family and Children, was discriminated against by her supervisor after seeking a religious accommodation for wearing a head wrap called a geles as part of her religious practice. Holmes' supervisor told her that she would be written up for insubordination for violating the office's dress code policy if she did not stop wearing the head wrap. As a result, Holmes was forced to take two vacation days to avoid being disciplined. According to Holmes, her supervisor allowed other employees to wear headgear or hats without being threatened with disciplinary action.

"The state of Indiana's attempt to deny Endres' and Holmes' constitutional right to seek religious accommodation in their workplaces is an affront to religious freedom," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Title VII was enacted to give all people, including public employees, the ability to come before a federal court, where no state court bias can favor the state employer, to challenge policies or actions by employers that interfere with their right to practice their religion."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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