Chicago's Thomas More Society Files Suit vs. Indiana Civil Rights Agency to Stop Illegal, Unconstitutional Prosecution of Catholic Home Schooling Moms
March 4, 2010
HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind., (christiansunite.com) -- Late yesterday, Chicago's Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, filed a 127-page lawsuit against the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). The ICRC has adamantly insisted that it has the power to review and penalize a Catholic home schooling group of nine families who joined together for religious reasons to form the Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society (FACES) by which the families sought to provide social occasions at which their children could interact in a religious context with other children who were being home schooled.
The lawsuit charges that the ICRC, purporting to wield the vast power of Indiana's state government, has arrogated to itself virtually unlimited authority to second guess and then penalize the most petty or trivial decisions by such small groups of private citizens and families, even though -- as in this case -- they have gotten together for explicitly religious reasons. That Indiana's Civil Rights Law applies to matters "related to education" doesn't authorize ICRC to insert itself into every minor dispute that may arise, for example, whenever families form car pools to get to school or booster clubs to sponsor social activities to fund athletic or other extracurricular programs.
"Fights over car pools or crayons are not within the purview of Indiana's Civil Rights Law or subject to ICRC oversight or sanctions," said Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, "for that would be absurd and the law abhors absurd interpretations. The agency seems to claim that the scope of its jurisdiction is boundless. It is acting like a lawless giant wielding a sledgehammer on vulnerable private citizens, who were only striving to provide safe, enriching social occasions for their children."
More fundamentally, the lawsuit charges that the ICRC's assertion of jurisdiction over these few home schooling families who unite for religious purposes imposes an unconstitutionally intolerable burden on their federal First Amendment rights and their corresponding rights under the Indiana Constitution to freely associate in exercising and expressing their religious beliefs.
Indeed, the burdens imposed on FACES are real and substantial. The whole weight of state power has come down hard on this small voluntary association that subsists on donations and volunteer efforts, has no employees, and offers no goods, services or accommodations to the general public. FACES' small treasury has been exhausted; it has discontinued social activities pending the outcome of the litigation; and it will be forced to disband if the case proceeds much further. ICRC's rulings have emitted the worst extremes of chilling effect on associational rights of other home schooling groups throughout Indiana, many of whose members now fear liability as the price of volunteer efforts if any disgruntled parent should file a new charge with ICRC.
FACES' litigation arose when one mother whose daughter allegedly suffered from a serious food allergy insisted that her child have a special diet at the group's banquet. FACES' leaders believed in good faith that a different home-prepared meal would pose less risk to the girl's health. But the mother circumvented the leaders' decision, then filed a civil rights charge, claiming "disability discrimination" by reason of FACES' alleged failure to "accommodate" her daughter's allergy problem, and then she filed another charge of "retaliation."
"That secular government officials stand in judgment over this private religious group's good faith decisions as to whether one accommodation of a child's health problem would be more 'reasonable' than another, when the group's leaders measure their own conduct according to a religious ideal, constitutes a grave insult to the very concept of religious freedom," Brejcha said. "With our Indiana co-counsel and expert help from Professor Patrick Gillen of Ave Maria University Law School in Naples, Fla., we are doing our utmost to see that the legal rights of these home schooling families are fully protected," he added.
State civil rights agencies have limited jurisdiction, but recently they have used their powers in ways that seem far removed from ordinary notions of "civil rights." New laws protecting "sexual orientation," for example, have been held to protect men and women, or boys and girls, claiming their "gender identity" to be different from their "biological identity." When such agencies exceed their powers, as in FACES' case vs. ICRC, Thomas More Society believes that citizens must step forward to curb those excesses in full accordance with governing law.
About the Thomas More Society
Founded in 1997, the Thomas More Society is a not- for-profit, public interest law firm based in Chicago and dedicated to fighting for the rights and dignity of all human beings, from conception until natural death. The Society vigorously defends clients in state and federal courtrooms around the country, addressing vital issues across the pro-life spectrum, including pregnancy discrimination, end-of-life health care, the right of conscientious objection for medical workers, freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and peaceable nonviolent protest.
As a public interest law firm, the Thomas More Society is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, supported solely by private donations. Visit www.thomasmoresociety.org for more information.