Portland, Oregon Civil Litigation Defense Attorneys - Kaempf Law Firm PC

A Blog by John Kaempf

DEFAMATION LIABILITY AND TERMINATED EMPLOYEES

Churches and religious schools are periodically faced with the dilemma of having to terminate a priest, pastor, teacher, or other employee and then answer questions from the congregation and other employees about why the person was let go. Churches and religious schools can feel torn between wanting to explain what happened and fearing civil liability for defamation (a false, unprivileged statement that causes injury to another) to a person who is upset that they were fired. The Oregon Court of Appeals stated the law in this area in Tubra v. Cooke, 233 Oregon Court of Appeals 339 (2010), a case John Kaempf defended. Continue reading

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that a town can open its board meetings with a Christian prayer without violating the First Amendment

In Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, 134 Supreme Court 1811 (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether the town of Greece, New York, imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a Christian prayer.  The Court held that no violation of the U.S. Constitution was shown.

In Greece, a town of 94,000 in upstate New York, monthly town board meetings begin with an invocation by a local clergyman invited by the town supervisor.  “The prayer was intended to place town board members in a solemn and deliberative frame of mind, invoke divine guidance in town affairs, and follow a tradition practiced by Congress and dozens of state legislatures.”  Id. at 1816.  A minister of any persuasion, even an atheist, could give the invocation, but because nearly all congregations in town are Christian, all of the participating ministers were Christian.  The town did not review the prayers in advance or provide guidance about their content.  “Typical were invocations that asked the divinity to abide at the meeting and bestow blessings on the community: ‘Lord we ask you to send your spirit of servanthood upon all of us gathered here this evening to do your work for the benefit of all in our community.  We ask you to bless our elected and appointed officials so they may deliberate with wisdom and act with courage.  Bless the members of our community who come here to speak before the board so they may state their cause with honesty and humility.’”  Id.   Continue reading

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WHEN CAN AN OREGON CHURCH OR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL BE HELD LIABLE FOR DEFAMATION CONCERNING THE FIRING OF AN EMPLOYEE?

Oregon churches and religious schools are sometimes faced with the dilemma of having to terminate a priest, pastor, teacher, or other employee and then answer questions from the congregation or other employees about why the person was let go.  Churches and religious schools can feel torn between wanting to explain what happened and fearing civil liability for defamation to a person who is upset that they were fired.  

The Oregon Court of Appeals stated the law in this area in Tubra v. Cooke, 233 Oregon Court of Appeals 339 (2010).     Continue reading

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RELIGIOUS DEFENSES TO CLAIMS CONCERNING SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION – WHY THE “SWEET CAKES BY MELISSA” DISPUTE IS DIFFERENT

Oregon received national media attention earlier this year when its Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) announced in a January 2014 press release that a Gresham bakery violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple when it denied them service based on their sexual orientation.  The couple filed a complaint against “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, a law that protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender Oregonians in employment, housing, and public places.  Under that law, Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  

The law, however, provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools operating in Oregon, but it does not allow private business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation.  BOLI’s investigation concluded that the bakery was not a “religious institution” under the law and that its policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation. Continue reading

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