In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her written dissent that through its decision the Court had, “ventured into a minefield.”
As described in this article, U.S. District Judge David Sam cited Hobby Lobby is his decision to excuse an individual from testifying in a current child labor action.
Amid allegations that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a sect of the Mormon Church, forced children to miss school in order to harvest pecans for eight hour days without pay, the Department of Labor began an investigation into the charges.
Vergel Steed, a member of the church, was deposed in January and used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to help protect him from identifying church leaders who are thought to be parties to the alleged activity. The RFRA provides that individuals may be exempt from laws that go against their religious beliefs and/or practices. Based on this and the recent Hobby Lobby decision, Judge Sam ruled that due to his religious beliefs, Steed is not obligated to respond to a Federal Subpoena that would require him to name individual church leaders.
In his decision, Judge Sam citing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, “It is not for the Court to ‘inquire into the theological merit of the belief in question.’ The Court’s ‘only task is to determine whether the claimant’s belief is sincere, and if so, whether the government has applied substantial pressure on the claimant to violate that belief.”
Dean of UC-Irvine School of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky, calls Sam’s decision “stunning,” stating, “I think it is quite predictable that the court’s decision in Hobby Lobby would open the door to such claims of an exemption from laws for religious reasons. I fear it is just the start of cases of people claiming religious exemptions from general laws.”
If you or someone you know believe they have experienced unlawful employment practices, the team at Radford & Keebaugh can help. Contact us by phone at (678) 369-3609 or use our contact form.