Minnesota - A kosher butcher was fired after more than 10 years of successful employment when a new rabbi found his qualifications religiously suspect. The court had to decide whether to treat the case as religious or secular.
AER Slaughtering services provides slaughtering services for companies that sell kosher meat products. Leo Maruani went to work for AER as a shochet in 1993. In 2003, Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag became the certifying authority and he reviewed Maruani’s qualifications and decided that he was not “God-fearing in the public’s eye.” He offered several reasons: Maruani drove to synagogue services instead of walking as required; he did not wear a full beard and dark suit; and his wife, a convert to Judaism, did not cover her hair or use the Jewish ritual bath. AER terminated Maruani.
Maruani sued AER in Minnesota state court and AER removed the case to federal district court. In his complaint Maruani claimed that AER discriminated against him on the basis of religion in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. AER claimed that the court had no jurisdiction over Maruani’s claims. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The court decision was that AER was clearly a secular employer, operating as a for-profit business and not owned by any church; it was thus not entitled to First Amendment religious protection. Maruani’s job, on the other hand, clearly was religious in nature as it involved slaughtering animals according to Jewish ritual. Inquiring into Maruani’s religious discrimination claim would involve the court’s consideration of the rabbi’s rules and Maruani’s own religious conformity; accordingly, the court dismissed that claim.
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