Catholic Homeschool Group's Appeal will be Argued Before the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC)
Contact: Tom Ciesielka, TC Public Relations, 312-422-1333, firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 26, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Tomorrow, Friday, January 27, 2012, at 10:00 a.m., the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) will hear an appeal filed by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society on behalf of a Roman Catholic home-schooling group, Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society (FACES). The appeal asks that ICRC overturn a preliminary ruling by one of the Commission's Administrative Law Judges, Hon. Robert Lange, to the effect that FACES, based in Fishers, Indiana, unlawfully "retaliated" against a former student when it expelled her from this voluntary association of eleven Catholic homeschooling families.
The expulsion occurred a few months after the teenage student had filed a claim with ICRC, charging "disability discrimination" when she was denied a steak dinner at FACES' "All Soul's Day Ball," a group-sponsored social event. The approved menu for all other FACES students was a chicken dinner. The claimant's mother privately arranged with the local banquet hall that hosted the event to serve her and her daughter a steak dinner in lieu of the chicken served to others. The menu dispute arose when the claimant insisted that the chicken meal posed the risk of a serious, potentially fatal reaction given her supposedly severe food allergy. After two years of intensive, costly litigation, however, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that the Civil Rights Commission dismiss the disability bias charge, as FACES' leaders had asked the claimant to bring a home-made meal to the event, thereby averting any risk of an adverse allergic reaction. Yet, the ALJ also urged ICRC to affirm his initial ruling that FACES illegally retaliated when the claimant and her family were expelled.
Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society's president and chief counsel, hailed the ALJ's ruling on disability: "This disability bias claim was not only meritless, but spurious - a manipulative, petty move by an arrogant, selfish, and dominating parent insistent on getting her own way at others' expense. FACES more than "accommodated" the student's allergy, bending over backwards to avoid any health risk, by directing her mother to bring a meal from home."
On the other hand, Brejcha assailed the ruling on retaliation as lawless and extreme: "The claimant's mother flouted the group leaders' order to stop negotiating directly with the banquet hall about a special meal for her family. This was gross insubordination, warranting her expulsion, and it was only one in a series of insubordinate acts she committed, all after the filing with ICRC. Thus, she was carrying on with utter arrogance as if she were a law unto herself, an 'untouchable' no longer bound by FACES' rules, which remained binding on other families. If ICRC adopts this extreme ruling as an enforceable legal precedent, it will impose by sheer fiat of state government an unbearable burden on private associations (and businesses) in the State of Indiana, mandating that any group member (or employee) who merely files a bias charge with ICRC, even baseless as in this case, will be entitled to special treatment - an exemption from compliance with the group's (or employer's) rules. This would turn the Indiana Civil Rights Law -- an anti-bias statute -- upon its head, perverting it into a mandate for discrimination in favor of charging parties before ICRC. No group, let alone the few volunteer families in this case who merely wanted to provide social enrichment opportunities within a Catholic context for their home-schooled kids, could ever hope to function as a cohesive unit if its members were legally entitled to behave as they please, heedless of the group's own rules and chain of command."
Even though Thomas More Society undertook FACES' defense on a pro bono basis, without charge, the home-schooling group had to cease operations in Summer 2010, owing to the many distractions and burdens bound up with having to defend such a protracted, intensive ICRC proceeding. Had FACES been forced to pay its own way in defense of ICRC's taxpayer-funded prosecution, it would have had to capitulate years ago.
The brief filed by Thomas More Society argues an entire litany of points:
- The Indiana Civil Rights Commission does not have authority to police the internal affairs of religious and social groups like FACES, especially about menu choices;
- The Indiana Civil Rights Law doesn't apply because the claimant's dietary issue did not restrict any major life activity and was exaggerated by the claimant's mother;
- There is no duty under the Indiana Civil Rights Law to provide "reasonable accommodation" even for persons with legitimate major disabilities; and
- FACES was not guilty of "retaliation" as it treated the claimant and her family on an equal and non-discriminatory basis, enforcing the group's rules binding on everybody.
A copy of the filing of FACES' appeal is available here.
FACES' motion for leave to cite supplemental authority, namely, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling upholding the federal constitutional right of religious groups to hire and fire as they choose, is available.
For more information or to speak with an attorney with the Thomas More Society, please contact Tom Ciesielka 312-422-1333, email@example.com
About the Thomas More Society
Founded in 1997, the Thomas More Society is a national public interest law firm that exists to restore respect for life in law. Based in Chicago, the Thomas More Society defends the sanctity of human life, the family and religious liberty in courtrooms across the country. The Society is a nonprofit organization wholly supported by private donations. For more information or to support the work of Thomas More Society, please visit www.thomasmoresociety.org.