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Fired rabbi loses appeal

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A Bloomington rabbi terminated less than a year into his contract with Congregation Beth Shalom lost his case before the Indiana Court of Appeals. He claimed he was fired for reporting child abuse, but the congregation said his contract was terminated for other conduct that fell under the ministerial exception.

Beth Shalom entered into a contract with Steven Ballaban for him to serve as rabbi for three years. He was fired nearly a year later in 2010 due to the board of directors’ view that Ballaban was unable or unwilling to fulfill the expectations for rabbinic behavior, put the tax-exempt status of the congregation at risk, breached the congregation’s guidelines’ sacred duty of confidence on at least two occasions, and was hostile toward employees. Ballaban argued that he was fired because he previously had exchanged email messages with several people regarding concerns of child abuse by a teacher. That abuse claim was later unsubstantiated by the Department of Child Services.

After Ballaban filed a lawsuit following his termination, the congregation argued that the ministerial exception applies. Ballaban claimed reporting child abuse would fall outside of that exception and allow his suit to proceed. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Beth Shalom and other defendants.

Judges Elaine Brown, L. Mark Bailey and Nancy Vaidik each wrote opinions on this case, with Bailey and Vaidik concurring with Brown’s opinion that summary judgment was proper for the defendants.

Brown wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether the ministerial exception applies when a minister is fired or impacted for reporting or attempting to report child abuse. She found it’s not necessary to decide that yet because the record supports the ruling that the ministerial exception applies.

Bailey noted that the record doesn’t include Ballaban’s complaint or amended complaint, but it appears he brought claims of breach of contract, tortious interference with a contract, negligent failure to supervise, defamation and invasion of privacy. He pointed to a letter to Ballaban designated as evidence by Beth Shalom that reasons for his termination included “conduct unbecoming a spiritual leader,” and that he had been counseled by another rabbi about his behavior. Ballaban never designated materials showing that the termination was prompted solely by the reports of child abuse.

Vaidik wrote that the ministerial exception doesn’t allow a congregation to fire a spiritual leader who refuses to commit a criminal offense and failure to report child abuse is a criminal offense. But the designated evidence doesn’t reveal the reason Ballaban was fired was his child-abuse reporting, so she concurred in result.

All of the judges agreed in Steven A. Ballaban v. Bloomington Jewish Community, Inc., a/k/a Congregation Beth Shalom, Paul Eisenberg, Judith Rose, Sarah Wasserman, Lynne Foster Shifriss, and Roberta "Didi" Kerler, 53A01-1207-CT-315, that Beth Shalom is not entitled to appellate attorney fees.

 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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