Mar 10, 2020

UPS Manager Continues Punishing Drivers for Prayer Meetings


Myrtle Beach, SC -March 10, 2020 - (God Inspires News) -- In spite of scrutiny, the United Parcel Service (UPS) Myrtle Beach, SC Center manager is now retaliating against employees who sought to voluntarily pray together before work, in the form of strict application of work “rules” and harassment, in response to attention over the prayer meetings.

After Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter on February 12 to UPS stating that drivers’ prayer meetings must be allowed again, and any participating drivers who have been fired must be reinstated, the parcel service stated that Center Manager Steve Keller would hold a “Prework Communication Meeting” (PCM) to confirm the employees’ right to pray. One driver represented by Liberty Counsel has been rehired.

According to one driver, a PCM finally occurred yesterday in which Keller read "a scripted letter stating UPS does not discriminate against people's religious freedom off the clock and we are all to follow safety protocols when meeting on the yard.” Meanwhile, Keller continues to harass the employees for complaining about his mistreatment of them for exercising their right to pray before work.

In July 2019, approximately 40 UPS drivers started voluntarily praying together each morning in the parking lot prior to their shifts. The group has since grown to between 50 and 60 drivers. Employees initially reported to Liberty Counsel that Keller told a driver on January 16, 2020 that the drivers “cannot pray anymore on company property because someone else may feel discriminated against.” Then, on January 20, Keller told a second driver that the drivers “could no longer pray on company property because it violates others’ religious rights.” The following week, the drivers met, but did not pray. Some bowed their heads in a simple moment of silence. Since then, several drivers with many years’ experience who regularly participated in the prayer meetings were fired for what appears to be pretextual reasons.

In response to media calls, UPS sent out a statement which said: “We have investigated the claims made by Liberty Counsel in their letter to UPS. We believe there is a misunderstanding and we have reached out to them to clarify the situation regarding employees at our site. UPS employees are permitted to assemble before they start work as long as they follow truck yard safety and conduct rules. No employees have been disciplined in connection with assembly to pray prior to their shift. We look forward to clarifying this situation with Liberty Counsel and our employees at the site.”

Other UPS employees have contacted Liberty Counsel to share their experiences. For example, Randy Lankford is a pastor and former UPS employee who drove a truck for 28 years. Lankford confirmed the South Carolina drivers’ account regarding Keller. Lankford related that the drivers at the Monroe, NC center started a devotional / prayer time every morning in 2013 before work “to help their morale and calm the chaos that we deal with in many of the drivers’ lives. We always did it on our time, never on company time. This is when the harassment and bullying by Steve Keller started,” said Lankford.

“Steve Keller would tell us (or me, because I was running the devotional every morning) that we could not have prayer time and a devotion or our own meeting before work. So I went to the center manager and he told Keller that we could meet. Then Keller decided to start bullying and harassing drivers and especially where we could meet to have devotion. He moved it four times,” said Lankford.

Lankford then contacted the division manager who confirmed that drivers were allowed to have their meeting before work. However, Keller, who was an on-car supervisor at the time, only increased the harassment. Lankford said he never regrets starting a devotion and prayer time for the drivers before work because, “It changed men’s attitudes, men’s lives and the trash talk in locker room. We helped men deal with family issues. We even saw some men on the belt where they load the trucks, come to faith in Christ. They started their own devotion and prayer time as well.”

However, the continuous harassment from Keller that Lankford faced seriously affected his health.

Lankford said, “A normal on-car supervisor rides with a driver around three times a year. Steve Keller rode with me 13 times in one month. I raised this issue with the union many times and spoke with our center manager about the harassment and intimidation. It fell on deaf ears. Nothing was done. The more you complained about Steve Keller, the more vindictive he became. This went on for probably one year.

One day in 2014, Steve got on the truck and he was out for blood. He was there for one reason, and that was to fire me. To make it short, let me put it this way. I would normally deliver 60 stops before 3:00 p.m. We were arguing from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon about every detail about how I was working. It was plain harassment, and it caused me to be so stressed that I thought I was having a heart attack. At 3:00 p.m., Steve Keller took me to the hospital, because I thought that I was having a heart attack. At that time, I had only delivered 18 stops. My last day at UPS, after delivering for 28 years, ended in the hospital in Matthews, NC, because of Steve Keller’s harassment.”

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Employees at UPS and elsewhere are allowed by law to voluntarily read the Bible, pray together, or discuss spiritual matters before their shifts begin for the day, during their lunch breaks or during any other off-the-clock time when they may otherwise read or discuss secular topics. Managers are forbidden from harassing their employees for exercising their religious freedom rights. UPS should take action upon these reports of what appear to be a pattern and practice of retaliation by a vindictive manager,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics. Liberty Counsel provides broadcast quality TV interviews via Hi-Def Skype and LTN at no cost.

Feb 19, 2020

Are Teachers Ministers?

Washington, D.C. - February 19, 2020 - (God Inspires News) -- Independent Women’s Law Center has filed an amicus brief in support of Our Lady of Guadalupe School, arguing that the First Amendment’s religion clauses bar employment discrimination claims by employees against their religious employers where the employee carries out important religious functions.

In 2012 the United States Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision outlining the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination claims against religious employers. This case involves the scope of that exception and, specifically, whether teachers at a Catholic school are properly defined as ministers of the faith.

The brief argues that teachers at religious schools perform a vital role in advancing the school’s religious mission. This is true whether the teachers are ordained ministers of the faith or lay people and irrespective of whether they teach courses in religion or math. Because the objective of a religious school is to inculcate religious values, all teachers at these schools are “ministers” within the meaning of the “ministerial exception.”

Erin M. Hawley, Senior Legal Fellow at Independent Women’s Law Center, issued the following statement: “The ‘ministerial exception’ protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through hiring practices and bars federal and state courts from interfering with the hiring and retention policies and practices of religious employers. Teachers at religious schools play a critical role in transmitting the faith to the next generation and are, therefore, properly categorized as ‘ministers’ within the exception outline by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Because a narrow interpretation of the ministerial exception will interfere with the ability of parents to raise their children with a distinctly religious education, Independent Women’s Law Center urges the Supreme Court to reverse the 9th Circuit’s decision denying the Catholic elementary school the right to choose its own ministers without government interference.

Read the full brief HERE.

The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) also filed an amicus brief. The brief was compiled by preeminent constitutional attorney and COLPA’s National Vice President Nat Lewin. It urges the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that severely limits the ability of religious institutions and organizations to make appropriate employment decisions.

“The Chamber is honored to have our voice heard in the nation’s highest court, advocating at the front lines on behalf of our religious freedoms and the integrity of the workplace,” says Duvi Honig, Founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce.

“We look forward to continue advocating on behalf of our community’s needs in the halls of power around the world.”

Christian Mail Carrier Discharged for Not Delivering Packages on Sunday Asks Federal Court for Judgment

Lancaster, PA - February 19, 2020 - (God Inspires News) -- On Friday, February 14, a United States Postal Service (USPS) mailman filed a Motion for Summary Judgement before a federal district judge asking the court to find that the USPS violated his rights when it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding work on Sundays.

Gerald Groff has been a mailman in Lancaster County for almost seven years. One Post Office supervisor called Mr. Groff his best employee. Another Post Office supervisor said that Mr. Groff had the best quality of work of anyone he had met in the USPS.

When he was hired, Sunday work was never required for Mr. Groff’s position. Several years later, the USPS started parcel delivery on Sundays. For a time, the Post Office and Mr. Groff worked flexibly together to accommodate his religious convictions of not working on Sundays. Mr. Groff simply picked up holiday, evening, and Saturday hours others did not want to work.

Later, USPS began enforcing a no-exceptions Sunday policy on Mr. Groff and needlessly disciplined him. This resulted in him being constructively discharged from the job he loved.

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said David Crossett, a partner at the Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Groff.

“Just as the Supreme Court recognized in a case involving the right of a Muslim worker to wear a head scarf at a clothing store, a government employer like the Post Office should reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The Post Office had plenty of other options for delivering Amazon packages on Sundays without making this employee violate his religious conscience,” said Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center. “In a free society, government employers can and should do better at respecting their employees’ rights.”

The case, Groff v. Brennan, is filed before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Filed Brief – Groff v. Brennan

Feb 4, 2020

Family Research Council to Host Event on Religious Freedom in Iran

Washington, D.C. - January 24, 2020 - (God Inspires News) -- On Wednesday, February 5, Family Research Council will host an event titled, “Stories from Iran: Religious Freedom and the Secret Growth of the Underground Church.” The event will feature two Christian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, who were imprisoned for their faith in Iran. Dabrina Bet Tamraz, daughter of Assyrian Christian pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who is appealing his sentence, will also be speaking.

WHAT: Discussion of religious freedom, the persecution of Christians, and the spread of the underground church in Iran. FRC’s Executive Vice President, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin, will offer opening remarks.

WHERE: Family Research Council Media Center, 801 G St NW, Washington, DC, 20001 (register for the event here). The event will be livestreamed here.

WHEN: Wednesday, February 5, 2020, from 12:00-1:00 p.m. ET.

To obtain media credentials or request an interview with FRC staff on the condition of religious freedom in Iran, please contact media@frc.org.

Jan 24, 2020

Supreme Court will hear Little Sisters' plea to keep caring for the elderly poor

Source: Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Texarkana, TX - January 24, 2020 - (God Inspires News) -- The Supreme Court will once again weigh in on the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their legal battle against the HHS contraceptive mandate. The Supreme Court has twice protected the Catholic nuns, and an HHS rule issued in 2018 protects religious non-profits, but several states have dragged the Little Sisters of the Poor back to court. In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Little Sisters are defending their hard-won religious exemption from a lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Attorney General and a recent Third Circuit ruling against them threatening their ministry of serving the elderly poor.

The HHS contraceptive mandate required the Little Sisters to provide services such as the week-after pill in their health care plans or pay millions of dollars in fines. In 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned lower court rulings against the Little Sisters, granting them an exemption from the mandate, and in 2018, HHS announced a new rule protecting religious non-profits, including the Little Sisters. Yet several states, including Pennsylvania and California, immediately sued the federal government to take that protection away, forcing the Little Sisters back to court. After a loss in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the Sisters now turn to the High Court to finally put an end to their long legal journey.

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all.”

In 2016, the government admitted before the Supreme Court that it has ways to get contraceptives to women without forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to participate. California and Pennsylvania each have programs for providing contraceptives to women who want them, yet both states are suing to enforce the federal mandate on religious non-profits like the Little Sisters.

“Pennsylvania needs to give it a rest,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket. “Why is Pennsylvania still trying to fight tired and unnecessary culture wars that were settled years ago? There are plenty of ways to provide people with contraceptives without forcing Catholic nuns to participate. It’s too bad that the Supreme Court is being forced by Pennsylvania to deal with this issue again, but at least the Court can now bring this litigation to a permanent end.”

Jan 22, 2020

Pastors and Churches Must Understand Biblical and Moral Responsibility of Safety

by American Pastors Network

In the wake of a tragic church shooting in Texas just after Christmas that left a congregation and a community devastated, many churches are beginning the new year on a somber note when it comes to considering safety and security.

Following other sad and shocking acts of violence in churches over recent years, the American Pastors Network (APN), the largest national network dedicated to equipping pastors to be a voice for truth in the public square, took a lead in helping pastors and church leaders work through a perplexing societal problem.

“Unfortunately, church security is now a pressing matter in our nation,” said APN President Sam Rohrer. “No longer can we fully count on the peaceful and serene sanctuary of the church. It’s clear that those with evil intentions, whether against the church itself or those inside, have sought to steal and kill and destroy, as we witnessed at West Freeway Church of Christ in a Fort Worth, Texas, suburb. We live in a culture where our churches must seriously think about how to keep people safe. Just as a shepherd carries a staff to guard his sheep, so must every pastor employ ways to protect his flock.”

Rohrer and other APN leaders have developed 10 recommendations for churches to consider when it comes to the important matter of church security.

Understand the biblical and moral responsibility of safety. It is the duty of pastors and church leadership to do all they can to protect the lives of those in the congregation.

Develop and train a security team. Dedicate certain individuals, whether staff or volunteers, to undertake the important issue of security. Train these personnel how to identify potential threats and how to de-escalate potential threat situations. During services or functions, outfit the team in plain clothes.

Perform a risk assessment. Where is the church vulnerable in its facility and grounds? Consider a community threat assessment as well.
Implement security protocols. Consider these suggestions:

1. Lock doors after services begin;

2. Post security team members at entrances;

3. Conduct a regular, annual re-assessment of the security plan.

4. Install security cameras. Consider video surveillance to document and record potential threats or incidents.

5. Establish a medical response team. Mobilize medical personnel already within the congregation who can take action if injuries ever occur.

6. Evaluate the legal parameters for security measures. Research insurance requirements and conduct a liability assessment. Identify state civil laws regarding security measures, which can vary from state to state.

7. Create an evacuation plan. Be sure the security team knows how to best evacuate churchgoers of all ages and mobility ranges, and consider creating another key team to assist. Practice the plan through drills.

8. Involve local law enforcement in the security plan. Tell local police departments and other emergency responders about the security plan, perhaps through an evening meeting. They may be able to offer additional suggestions or protocols.

9. Communicate the new or existing security measures with the congregation. Members will appreciate knowing the church has a plan to keep them safe.