Fired high school teacher continues fight against ID-badge policy

Thursday, February 25, 1999

A West Virginia public school teacher fired for refusing to enforce an ID-badge policy for religious reasons says he will fight the school's action all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

The Rutherford Institute, a conservative religious legal group representing the high school teacher, announced Feb. 22 that it would seek a reversal of the Randolph County Board of Education's decision to fire Elkins High School physics teacher Philip Hudok. Hudok was let go by the school board earlier this month after he said he would not discipline students who refused to wear ID badges.

The badge policy for students and teachers was enacted primarily for security reasons by the school board in late 1998. The badge includes the name, photo and an assigned bar code number. In early January, Hudok requested an exemption from the school board, citing passages from the Bible's book of Revelation that warn “the numbering of God's people” means that the Antichrist has arrived. On Jan. 5, the school board said Hudok could wear his badge without a bar code.

Hudok, however, refused to discipline any students not wearing the badges. On Jan. 22 the school board suspended Hudok without pay for his refusal to enforce the policy and then it voted 4-1 early this month to terminate him.

Ron Rissler, legal coordinator for the Rutherford Institute, said his group had filed a grievance with an administrative law judge seeking a reversal of the school board's decision. Rissler added that if the termination were not reversed, then his group would sue the school district in federal court.

“He has a right as an employee to have his sincerely held religious beliefs taken seriously,” Rissler said. “It's hard to believe that a former 'Teacher of the Year' could be fired for something like this.”

Frank Bush, an attorney in Elkins working for the Rutherford Institute, said the teacher's religious liberties are protected on the job by a federal civil rights law and that the school officials have run afoul of that law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating against workers because of their religion. The law, moreover, states that employers must make “reasonable accommodations” to workers' religious beliefs unless they can demonstrate that doing so would cause “undue hardship” on the operations of the business.

“Title VII incorporates the free exercise of religion into an employment arena,” Bush said. “It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender and religion in employment. A reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs can sometimes be accomplished. We believe in this case no accommodation of Hudok's bona fide religious objection was attempted.”

Bush said the school board made no efforts to accommodate Hudok after he told board members he would not enforce the policy with his students.

Randolph County Superintendent Glen Karlen has maintained that the school board did work with and attempted to reasonably accommodate Hudok's beliefs.