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Indiana Supreme Court to Hear Homeschoolers' Appeal: Religious Liberty vs. 'Civil Rights' Regime

Thomas More Society Attorneys Available to Media in Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society, Inc, v. Bridgewater

Contact: Tom Ciesielka, TC Public Relations, 312-422-1333, tc@tcpr.net 

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., Jan. 31, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- Thomas More Society attorneys available to media following Indiana Supreme Court oral arguments in Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society, Inc., v. Bridgewater, No. 93S02-1310-EX-704
WHEN: Monday, February 3, 2014 immediately following oral arguments, which begin at 9 a.m. (Eastern), scheduled to end by 9:40 a.m. (Eastern)

Patrick Gillen, Thomas More Society special counsel who will argue the case, and professor at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, FL

Peter Breen, Thomas More Society vice-president and senior counsel defending Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society

Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president & chief counsel

WHERE: Outside of the Indiana Supreme Court, 200 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204 MAP: goo.gl/maps/7fnW3

The Indiana Supreme Court granted the Thomas More Society's request for review of a lower court ruling that upheld the power of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) to regulate the internal affairs of a small group of eleven Roman Catholic home-schooling families from Fishers, IN, the "Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society," or "FACES." The eleven FACES families united as a volunteer, non-profit group to provide fraternal support for each other, including their homeschooled teens, in an atmosphere consistent with their religious faith.

The case arose when Elizabeth Bridgewater, one of the mothers involved in FACES, insisted that her daughter be served a special steak dinner prepared at the local hotel where the group's social event, the "All Souls Day Ball," was to be held, for fear of an allergic reaction to the group's planned chicken dinner. But the three homeschooling mothers elected to run the group's affairs declined this request, and instead asked the mother to prepare and bring a non-allergic meal from home so as to avoid any risk of a serious allergic reaction -- this was precisely the course of action that Mrs. Bridgewater herself had initially proposed as an accommodation for her daughter's allergies. The group's leaders also directed Mrs. Bridgewater not to meddle any further with the hotel's arrangements for the event. Mrs. Bridgewater, however, filed a charge of "disability discrimination" against FACES with the ICRC. Then, she went behind the backs of the FACES leaders to alter the arrangements for the event, ordering a steak dinner for her family. Citing this disregard for FACES' directions as well as other disruptions of group activities, FACES' leaders expelled the Bridgewater family from membership in the group. Mrs. Bridgewater then filed another charge with the ICRC, claiming that the family was expelled in retaliation for her complaint to ICRC about disability discrimination. FACES denied both the discrimination and the retaliation claims, and it also argued that the ICRC had no lawful authority over their small group and could not meddle with the membership decisions of a religious association.

The ICRC decided that it had authority ("jurisdiction") over FACES on the theory that FACES' activities were "related to education." Later, ICRC dismissed the claim for "disability discrimination," finding that the three homeschooling mothers made a reasonable decision when they asked Mrs. Bridgewater to bring food from home to avoid risk of injury arising from a serious allergic reaction. But ICRC also decided that the decision to expel the Bridgewaters from FACES was "retaliatory" for the disability complaint and thus illegal. It ordered the group to reinstate the family, even though FACES had ceased operation, and directed the group to pay damages in the amount of $2,500. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the ICRC's decision. The Thomas More Society petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court for review of the decision below and the Supreme Court granted its request.

Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm which has represented FACES without charge, contends that the Indiana Civil Rights Law does not apply to private religious associations and that the First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of association bar the state agency from interfering with the internal self-governance and membership decisions of FACES' private religious association. As FACES argued in seeking review by the Indiana Supreme Court, the decision below has pernicious consequences for all private associations because it empowers this state agency to police the internal affairs of any volunteer group having any conceivable connection to education, such as after-school study groups, or organized parent-accompanied trips for neighborhood teens, volunteer car pools or sports ventures, or other groups formed by families to provide social support for their teens or other children in a religious faith environment. The Society also has contended that the Civil Rights Commission's legal theory of "retaliation" is wholly unsupported and would create a perverse precedent by giving anyone who files even the most baseless charge of discrimination a license (carte blanche!) to disobey direct orders or otherwise flout their group's (or employer's) rules with utter impunity, immunizing them from discipline or discharge.

Watch oral arguments LIVE online on Monday, February 3, 2014, at 9 a.m. (Eastern) here.

Read previous news about the case:

The complete history of this case can be found here.

About the Thomas More Society
Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm that exists to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago, the Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro-bono professional legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court.