Church Faces EEOC, Grave Markers Prohibited & Eviction Case

Church Faces EEOC, Grave Markers Prohibited & Eviction Case

In Today's Edition:

Atlanta Church Faces Employment Suit ... A church can be a place of employment as well as a place of worship - a dual role that hasn't escaped the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, an EEOC lawsuit states that the leadership of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, located in southwest Atlanta, "retaliated against three female workers by firing them after they complained about a church official making repeated sexual advances."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reports this marks the first time the EEOC has taken a case against an Atlanta church, "but it may not be the last. As churches grow and expand into a variety of business ventures, more qualify as workplaces large enough to bear EEOC scrutiny." A regional attorney in the EEOC's Atlanta district office told AJC that churches in Atlanta are "big business" that operate bookstores, television ministries and recording companies." The 10,000-member Mount Carmel church, for example, includes a television ministry, distribution of tapes and books, and 32 ministries - two of which are corporations, says AJC.

According to the report, this case is noteworthy because the workers were part of the church's administrative staff. If their jobs had been ministerial or religious in nature, the EEOC would not have been able to pursue the case, due to "ministerial exception." The AJC explains that is a rule "preventing the state from intervening in a church's decisions regarding its ministers or others in the church who are involved in religious, educational or any other faith-based function."


Housing Authority Seeks To Evict Woman Over Prayer Station Sign ... A Michigan woman may face eviction from her home for displaying an 8-inch, stop sign-shaped window sign containing the message, "24-Hr. Prayer Station." Johnie Heard, who lives in low income, government housing owned by the city of Taylor, Mich., is being represented by Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel.

According to a press release issued by Liberty Counsel, other residents in the housing development have been able to display secular window and yard signs without harassment by the authorities. One resident has a yard sign that is also shaped like a stop sign, containing the message, "Santa Stops Here." The city has not sought to evict this resident, nor has the city filed eviction notices against any of the other residents that displayed signs and messages.

"The only reason the city targeted Ms. Heard is because her sign is religious," says Liberty Counsel. City officials reportedly have tried to intimidate Heard by threatening to have her Section 8 housing subsidy revoked. After refusing to remove her religious sign from the window of her home, the housing authorities filed suit in state court, seeking to evict Heard. If she is not able to remain in the low-income housing, she will have nowhere to live, according to Liberty Counsel.


Grave Markers 'Central to Religion,' Court Hears ... From the Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau -- The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case that originated in a Boca Raton cemetery, "but could eventually reverberate from Miami soup kitchens to the trendiest gulf-front developments in the Panhandle." According to the report, at issue is whether the state's 1998 Religious Freedom Restoration Act "trumps" a local ban on religious statues, grave coverings and other obtrusive markers at the city cemetery.

"Few things are more central to religion than its response signaling death," American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Douglas Laycock of Austin told the justices. The ACLU, which usually seems to fight against religious expression, represents Boca Raton residents who are suing the city because it prohibits the crosses, statues and stars of David they placed on graves in the city cemetery.

According to the Palm Beach Post, another "intriguing" aspect of this case is the "highly unusual political alliance the case has spawned, landing Florida's leading conservative Republican, Gov. Jeb Bush, on the same side as the liberal beacon of the ACLU." Bush's general counsel, Charles Canady, filed a 30-page friend of the court brief siding with the ACLU and residents protesting the restrictions.

Canady wrote. "What legislator could have imagined that the courts would impose such tests of religious orthodoxy in their interpretation of a statute designed to protect the religious liberty of individuals whose consciences were being trampled by the insensitive exercise of governmental power?"


Germany: Political Parties Ignore the Churches ... Berlin, June 4 (idea) ... The mainline churches in Germany are disappointed that there is hardly any mention of their concerns in the party political platforms in the run-up to the general elections, Sept. 22. Wilhelm Schlemmer of the Protestant church's liaison office in Berlin told the evangelical news agency "idea" that the two major parties, the Social Democrats of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and the Christian Democrats, were missing out on church issues.

This, he said, aroused the suspicion that the parties believe that reference to the churches could reduce or at least not boost their election chances. The Christian Democratic platform refers only in general terms to a Christian world view. The Greens demand respect for Sunday as a day of rest, but make no mention of any Christian motivation.

Both the Catholic and the Protestant mainline churches will refrain from giving any electoral advice. The German Evangelical Alliance, representing about 1.3 million evangelicals, has announced that it will publish guidelines with regard to the political parties' standpoints on issues like abortion, homosexuality, Sunday trading etc.

The Catholic and Protestant mainline churches have about 54 million members, approximately two thirds of the German population of 82 million. Owing to a high degree of secularization, less than 5 percent of the Protestants and about 18 percent of Catholics worship regularly.