Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Court shoots down Acosta Department of Labor’s attack on religious freedom

Ed. For those who hope or believe that Donald Trump has removed the power-hungry, leftist cranks from the federal bureaucracy, the following story will reveal just how wrong you are. Attacks against the church—Christian, of course—which began under Obama are being continued by hacks still in power under Trump.

Thankfully, the left-wing abuse of power exhibited by Alex Acosta’s Department of Labor was brought to a halt by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Acosta was confirmed by the Senate in 2017.

The following article appeared in Powerline on April 17th

By Paul Mirengoff

We have seen that, from a conservative perspective, the Alex Acosta Department of Labor is bad on immigration, bad on equal pay, and weak on at least one important wage and hour law issue. Now we learn that it is also bad on religious liberty.
Alex Acosta

We learn this from the case of Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet, Inc.; Ernest Angley. In this action, the Department of Labor sued a restaurant operated by the Grace Cathedral church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It claimed that the church and its minister Ernest Angley violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying the minimum wage to church members who volunteered as workers at the restaurant.

The Obama administration DOL initiated the lawsuit, but Acosta’s DOL continued to pursue it. Indeed, as recently as last December it defended the action in the oral argument of an appeal by the church from a district court’s ruling.

Fortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against the Acosta DOL in a unanimous decision. It reversed the district court, which had awarded nearly $400,000 against the defendants.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that to be considered an employee within the meaning of the FLSA, and thus be entitled to the minimum wage, a worker must first expect to receive compensation. It was undisputed that the volunteers who worked at Cathedral Buffet had no such expectation.

The Acosta DOL tried to argue its way around this problem by saying that Rev. Angley “coerced” church members into volunteering for work at the restaurant. He told church members that the restaurant was “the Lord’s buffet,” and that “[e]very time you say no [to working there], you are closing the door on God.” He also suggested that church members who repeatedly refused to volunteer were at risk of “blaspheming against the Holy Ghost,” an unforgivable sin. A church member testified that she volunteered to work because she “feared failing God.”

The Sixth Circuit rejected the Acosta DOL’s position that these facts mean the church volunteers are entitled to pay. It agreed that in some circumstances, a showing of coercion might be sufficient to overcome a volunteer’s lack of expected compensation and bring her within the protections of the FLSA. It concluded, however, that these circumstances are not present in this case because the type of coercion the FLSA is concerned with is economic in nature, not societal or spiritual.

In a brilliant concurring opinion, Judge Kethledge ripped the Acosta DOL. He wrote:

One hopes that the Department of Labor simply failed to think through its position in this case. Since initiating this litigation in 2015, the Department has argued. . .that volunteers at the Cathedral Buffet were in fact employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act because, the Department says, their pastor spiritually “coerced” them to work there.

That argument’s premise—namely, that the Labor Act authorizes the Department to regulate the spiritual dialogue between pastor and congregation—assumes a power whose use would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

All in a day’s work for federal bureaucrats at Alex Acosta’s DOL. 

(Article continues HERE)  

Ed.  Judge Kethledge finishes his opinion beautifully by exposing the power-hungry office of the DoL and Alex Acosta. As the Judge puts it:

 What is perhaps most troubling about the Department’s position in this case, however, is the conceit of unlimited agency power that lies behind it. The power of a federal agency is no more than worldly. The Department should tend to what is Caesar’s, and leave the rest alone.

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