Yesterday’s post about the difficulty that courts have in dealing with religious discrimination, see Not Off to a Good Start and Onionhead: the newest religion? could not have been a better segue way to today’s decision from the 5th Circuit, Davis v. Fort Bend County, (5th Cir. 8.26.14).
“being an avid and active member of church does not elevate every activity associated with that church into a legally protectable religious practice.”
Instead, the majority opinion focused on what it called a historical reluctance of court’s to delve too deeply into an individual’s professed religious belief:
This court has cautioned that judicial inquiry into the sincerity of a person’s religious belief “must be handled with a light touch, or judicial shyness.” Tagore, 735 F.3d at 328 …. “[E]xamin[ing] religious convictions any more deeply would stray into the realm of religious inquiry, an area into which we are forbidden to tread.” Id. …. Indeed, “the sincerity of a plaintiff’s engagement in a particular religious practice is rarely challenged,” and “claims of sincere religious belief in a particular practice have been accepted on little more than the plaintiff’s credible assertions.” Id.
Judge Jerry Smith, politely, but vigorously disagreed with the Court’s limited view:
In its well-written opinion, the majority errs in holding that our inquiry is limited to the sincerity of an employee’s alleged religious belief; we must also consider whether that belief is “religious” in nature or merely a personal preference or a secular social or economic philosophy.
I can see en banc, or perhaps even Supreme Court review written all over this one. So perhaps, at least in this Circuit, the question I raised yesterday will soon be, if it is not already, answered by Davis.
At a minimum, if you currently have a religious discrimination case pending in the 5th Circuit, you need to be aware of this decision.