An evangelical Christian sued a Jewish community center for religious discrimination. She lost, but she may have won a victory for Christian ministries nationwide.
Linda LeBoon sued the Lancaster Jewish Community Center Association when the center fired her from her bookkeeping job. The Civil Rights Act forbids religious discrimination, but it allows religious organizations an exemption. LeBoon argued that LJCC couldn't claim the exemption since it "lacked financial or administrative ties with a synagogue and its nature and purposes were primarily cultural, not religious."
The Third Circuit Court disagreed, pointing to the LJCC's stated values, their involvement with religious services, and the fact that they displayed Scripture. Gary McCaleb , senior counsel at Alliance Defense Fund, said the center "would not allow their facility to be used for things that were in tension with their Jewish religious beliefs …. They actually had a Messiah Truth Project to help Jewish people respond to things like the Messianic Jewish movement."
McCaleb said courts usually have "a difficult time understanding … ministries that are outside of a pure church context." In this case, McCaleb believes the court judged well: "Look at the principle, not the people involved. … They set up a good test."
The court rejects the definition of another circuit court --- another reason the case is significant. When two circuit courts disagree, McCaleb said, "That's when the Supreme Court raises an eyebrow" and steps in to resolve the dispute.
The Alliance Defense Fund recently defended a Christian homeless ministry that did not hire a qualified applicant because the applicant was not a professing Christian. Like the LJCC, the ministry was not directly church-sponsored. McCaleb said now if a similar case arises, "We can turn around and say, 'Look at what the Third Circuit Court said.'"