A federal court in Kentucky has ruled it was improper for a public library to fire an employee for wearing a necklace featuring a Christian cross pendant.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest firm specializing in constitutional law, said in a statement yesterday the federal court in Bowling Green ruled the action violated the free speech and free exercise of religion clauses in the First Amendment.
“This is a very important decision that underscores the fact that employees have constitutional rights to express their faith in the workplace so long as that expression does not interfere with the work setting,” said Frank Manion, senior counsel for the ACLJ and the attorney who represented the employee.
“The fact that our client was fired for wearing a cross pendant on a necklace to work is not only absurd but unconstitutional as well,” said Manion. “This decision sends an important message that employers cannot discriminate against employees who choose to express their religious beliefs in the workplace.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, the legal group filed suit against the Logan County Public Library in Logan County, Ky., in February 2002 after Kimberly Draper, the employee, was fired by library management for wearing the pendant.
The suit challenged the library’s policy on such items, which read, “No clothing depicting religious, political or potentially offensive decoration is permitted.”
Draper was fired in April 2001 after being warned she could not wear the pendant.
But U.S. District Court Judge Thomas B. Russell ruled “it is simply beyond credibility that an employee’s personal display of a cross pendant, a star of David, or some other minor, unobtrusive religious symbol on her person would interfere with the library’s purpose.”
Russell cited a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision in saying the library’s policy was based on little more than “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance [which] is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.”
Library officials could not be reached for comment. Gene Kapp, a spokesman for the ACLJ, told WorldNetDaily he was unclear whether or not the library would appeal.
The Kentucky ruling comes on the heels of another similar case last week in which a Pennsylvania teacher’s aide was reinstated to her job after being suspended for wearing a cross pendant to work.
The aide, Brenda Nichol, is an instructional assistant in the Penns Manor Area Elementary School in Clymer. She was suspended for one year without pay after refusing to remove a one-and-a-quarter inch cross pendant that she had been wearing on her necklace.
The ACLJ, which also represented Nichol, maintained the school’s policy was unconstitutional and that its policy was “based on a state religious garb prohibition dating back to 1895.”
U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Schwab agreed, granting the ACLJ motion for preliminary injunction. Schwab, in his ruling, said the state garb statute did not apply, but if it did it would be unconstitutional.
The court held the school’s policy bred “hostility toward religion” and that it, too, was a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion protections.
“This is a very important victory upholding the constitutional rights of our client who merely wanted to express her faith outwardly by wearing a small cross pendant on her necklace,” said Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel for the ACLJ in the Pennsylvania case.
“Our client is back to work, and we are working now to ensure that she will never again face this type of religious discrimination in the school system,” he said.