A teacher fired because he refused to wear an identification card
with a bar code will be back to work at the start of the school year —
thanks to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
The court refused to hear an appeal by the Randolph County Board of
Education after a lower court ruled that Phil Hudok’s civil rights were
violated when he was fired as a science teacher at Elkins High School.
The board was ordered to reinstate Hudok and give him full back pay and
Hudok was suspended by the board Jan. 22, 1999, and then fired Feb. 4
for insubordination and willful neglect of duty. He refused to wear a
school ID card and also refused to enforce the wearing of the card by
students at the school. The school said the cards were part of a safety
program to prevent outsiders from coming into the school.
WorldNetDaily previously reported the events which led to Hudok’s
dismissal. Hudok said that his religious beliefs prevented him from wearing the ID because it had a bar code displayed next to his photo. He said that he believed the card was the “mark of the beast” as referred to in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
When Hudok was fired, he filed a grievance through the West Virginia State Employees and Education Grievance Board. Administrative Law Judge Lewis Brewer ruled that Hudok was within his rights and ordered the board to reinstate him, give him full back pay and expunge his personnel files of any record of the suspension and termination.
The school board immediately filed an appeal with the Randolph County Circuit Court.
“They weren’t ready to accept that,” Hudok recounted to WorldNetDaily. “They did not want me back.”
The school board argued that the ID card and bar code must be enforced because the security of the students outweighed the rights of Hudok.
Hudok expressed thanks to the Rutherford Institute for providing legal support in his appeal. The Rutherford Institute is a legal foundation that fights for religious freedom.
The case then went to a Randolph County Circuit Judge John Henning, who also ruled in Hudok’s favor. The school board then appealed to the West Virginia State Supreme Court. That court refused to hear the case.
The school board has abandoned the fight, and Randolph County School Superintendent Glen Karlen said there would be no further appeals. Hudok will be back teaching science at Elkins High School Aug. 25.
Changes in the school ID card will be put in place when Hudok returns. In addition to his religious objections to the ID card, Hudok told WorldNetDaily that he doesn’t believe the card contributes to the safety of the students.
“The kids are not allowed to take them with them when they leave the school. That means no one wears a card as they enter the school in the morning. They don’t wear the card until they are in school. Anyone can get in,” Hudok explained. “Where’s the security in that?”
The school began using the identification cards in November 1998, and the stated purpose was to provide security as part of the Safe Schools Coalition. School officials have not changed their stand about the use of the cards.
Hudok offered to wear the ID card if he could cover the bar code with tape. He also told school officials that he could not enforce the wearing of the ID card by students. He said he his religious beliefs prevented him from requiring students to do something he believed was wrong.
Henning’s order gave strong support to Hudok’s claims. He said his ruling was based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any laws that restrict the free exercise of religion.
“The court takes no position on the accuracy or inaccuracy of Mr. Hudok’s interpretation of the Bible,” Henning said in his decision. He added that “every citizen is free to interpret the Bible as he/she wishes and is free to practice a different religion or no religion whatsoever.”
Henning pointed out that some religious beliefs may require employers to provide special compliances, such as allowing hats or coverings, foods, liquids, facial hair, dressing, as well as the observance of special days of religious significance.
Henning also mentioned that federal law requires that employers make a reasonable effort to accommodate a sincerely held religious belief. He was critical of the school board for refusing to make a minor accommodation when Hudok offered to wear the ID card if he could cover the bar code with tape.
“This is exactly the type of small accommodation that federal law contemplates,” said Henning. He said the school board purposely decided not to “attempt whatsoever to accommodate Mr. Hudok on his religious belief.”
Henning was also critical of the school board’s argument in their appeal. He said the board argued that the ID cards were necessary for security in the school, but could not explain how bar codes on the cards could contribute to security. He said the board ignored its own witnesses who said the bar code was not for security and was used for the payment of school meals and for checking out library books.
“Thus Mr. Hudok was fired by the Board of Education for refusing a Board of Education policy on bar codes that never really existed and that students were not required to follow; a policy that never existed, but had a purpose of ‘checking out library books’ and ‘assessing lunch-room charges’; a policy that was not really for student safety,” stated Henning in his decision.
Hudok said he was pleased by Henning’s order.
“When many constitutional rights are going out the door, it is a refreshing decision,” Hudok told WorldNetDaily by phone as he prepared to return to classes.
Hudok also said he is pleased that a new ID card has been designed. It has bar codes on the back instead of on the front. Hudok, however, will not have a bar code anywhere on his ID card. He will also be permitted to instruct students who object to the bar code that they can cover it with tape if they wish to do so.