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Owner of Boston software company claims religious right to fire employee of company-funded foundation

The Globe reports on a lawsuit by a Chinese dissident living in the US against Boston-based Jenzabar, founder Ling Chai and two foundations founded and funded by the company.

Jing Zhang, who lives in New York, charges she was fired from one of the foundations because she grew reluctant to participate in weekly Christian prayer sessions on phone calls with headquarters in Boston.

Jenzabar is involved not just because it provided funding to the foundation - which seeks to help girls in China - but because the company gave Zhang a W2 for her work, claimed her salary as a tax deduction and listed her as a Jenzabar employee in a filing with New York State, according to a court ruling last month.

Chai, herself a former Chinese dissident, says Zhang deserved to be fired because she misappropriated funds meant for the foundation, but that, in any case, the foundation was religiously oriented and so exempt from discrimination lawsuits under New York law.

However, in last month's ruling on whether to simply dismiss the suit, a federal judge in Brooklyn said the foundation had failed to prove it actually was a religious organization, at least for the purposes of getting the lawsuit tossed, and noted that it only filed for an IRS religious exemption after Zhang had notified Chai that she was contemplating a religious discrimination complaint.

The ruling means that, barring a last-minute settlement, the issue will now go to trial - and Jenzabar, which provides planning, HR and students software to colleges, will continue to be a defendant, as will Chai.

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If I'm not mistaken, Jing Zhang's husband was the head of the Mass. GOP.

the foundation had failed to prove it actually was a religious organization

I have a family member who works in the fundraising branch of a large christian non-profit associated with christian groups on Ivy League campuses among other schools. He is a practicing evangelical christian who was not happy to learn he was expected to participate in a prayer group at work. For some christians who work in a christian organization, mandatory at-work prayer is a violation of their sense of religion as a personal matter.

I've never worked in a catholic or christian enterprise and been put in that position. I have worked with people of many different faiths and I find their views on religion interesting.

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I really don't believe it's appropriate for an employer to ask or compel an employee to attend religious services. Faith is a personal matter, and an employer should not use their position of power to pressure a person into expressing a religious belief.

Even religious institutions like hospitals and universities have employees of many faiths. Even if all your employees are of a particular religion, their beliefs may be different.

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It's great that these yutzes, or more aptly putzes, are so dull-witted to push this pseudo-religious issue so far so fast. Courts will have no option other than calling BS on the ploy quickly.

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Read up on the Hobby Lobby decision. The grounds for "religious exemption" are very loose. Hobby Lobby actually provided the very birth control products until ACA required it. Then they dropped the coverage and sued on religious grounds and won. The claim doesn't have to have merit, it only has to be found to exist.

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Wingnuts and religious nuts are delighted by these rulings and ready to rumble. I'm saying that if they abuse established statute and case law enough, they can blow this new area. I suggest that company owners like in this case are pushing too far into existing rights and law. Forcing someone to worship as you do is specifically what the First Amendment was created to avoid. The Colonists here had experienced far too much of that in England. I have no doubt that even our right listing SCOTUS won't agree that your religious freedom means stripping others' religious freedom. Honk. Game over.

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It was to prevent the State, or specifically the Federal Government, from forcing people to belong to a particular religion, as was the case in European states.

This case vexes me. If the company was founded on religious grounds, and every one hired came in knowing that this was that type of organization, the case has no grounds. If Ling decided one day that this is what the company would be, I think the defendant might have a leg to stand on.

Hobby Lobby was always religious, like Chik Fil-A, so things were a bit different. I'm such SOCTUS would have issues with companies "finding" religion to trim health care costs.

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"I'm such SOCTUS would have issues with companies "finding" religion to trim health care costs."

The thing about religion is that anyone can find it at anytime for any reason. If the government gets into the business of deciding whose religion is legal and whose is not, then get out the popcorn.

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Going back to the RFRA inspiring decision, when a native religion has been using peyote for centuries as part of a religious ceremony, it's different than founding the Church of Meth to cover your addiction.

Christian Scientists have had their views on healthcare since before even Roosevelt mentioned government healthcare. I'm just saying that if a bunch of companies are suddenly run by Christian Scientists, I'd be leery of exempting them from the Obamacare mandates.

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Hobby Lobby is a cluster f*ck. The jurisprudence on which it's based is bad news for secular and ecumenical principles in employment law... imo.

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So a company can't have a "come to Jesus" moment? Not all religious people were born that way.

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However, changing working conditions by mandating group prayer might raise some issues.

Look, I'm happy Ling has found Christ and is working to make Jesus' message stronger in the world. In the end, this is an employment case. Hiring people based on their ability to carry out the religious message of an organization should be allowed, but this might fit into a gray area. But then again, this is why we have constitutional scholars.

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...they can't have a "come to Jesus" moment on behalf of their employees.

The whole concept is totally stupid. It's like getting someone else to take a pee for you.

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This is America, and increasingly religious people believe that they do not have to follow any law they don't want to. They just scream 'religious liberty' whenever questioned, and the GOP is only too happy to oblige. Its not a coincidence that the president of the company screaming this time is a former head of the MA GOP.

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Free exercise of religion plus freedom of association. Your right to abortion? Modern invention.

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This is the idiotic "prayer in schools" argument, right? That if you can't compel the entire student body (or workforce) to get down with Jesus, somehow your ability to exercise your religion is impaired? If you believe that, you need some religious counseling, plus a rudimentary course in what the Constitution does and does not guarantee.

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I'm not sure you can be fired for not praying unless it's in your job description, and it doesn't violate your first amendment right of speech and association.

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And compulsory union membership is different how?

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Comparing required religious participation to union membership is a false comparison. It's comparing apples and oranges.

A better comparison is a buying a condominium. If I buy a condominium I have to pay condo dues and have to be part of the condominium association. It's part of the contract that I agree to when purchasing the condo (or, as it's usually called the by-laws).

Take a job where there is an already existing contract between the owner and the employees that states 1) there is a union and 2) membership is compulsory then I am a member. If the owner said, "Sure, there can be a union, but you can't make it compulsory," and the contract allows that, then membership is not compulsory.

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You can get fired for not praying at work but WhatAbout forced union membership?

Well, that's a fallacy. No one can be forced to join a union in the USA. That's guaranteed by the First Amendment Right of Association.

So how does it work if you're in a union shop and you don;t want to join? In that case, you can pay a 'fair share' or 'agency' fee, which covers the cost of contract negotiation and other direct costs like representing you if management wants you fired but not political activity. Thanks for playing WhatAbout some other issue not remotely related to this thread.

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This is America, and increasingly soi-disant "Christian" people believe that they do not have to follow any law they don't want to.

FTFY....

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Pun intended. The similarity to the first season of House of Cards is ironic. If Ling Chai's husband was an elected official it would be just weird.

Ling Chai's argument smells worse than fermented tofu. Throwing in the claim of misappropriating funds is a Hail Mary. She knows that the religious exemption claim is weak and so add in an accusation of secular misbehavior something that verges on illegal. Wouldn't misappropriation of funds be illegal and so criminal? Ms Chai should contact the NY state's attorney. Oh, no, she can't perhaps because she knows it's not true?

This is a straight forward case of discriminating against a person on the basis of their religious belief - and practice. It's worse than the Hobby Lobby case because this situation involves harming a person's livelihood.

What would Jesus think about this and the Hobby Lobby case? He might ask why what belongs to Caesar now is jammed through the religious door? In other words why is what belongs in the secular world being force fed and jammed down the throat of the sacred world and why is what belongs in the religious world being jammed up the back side of the secular world? Hobby Lobby was a business about making profit. Jesus didn't care for the conducting of business in a sacred space, so I'm sure he would not think very well of a place that exists to make a profit cloaking itself in the mantle of holiness. I am sure he would also ask Ms Chai why she needs to make a regular showing of her piety by asking lawyers to pray with her and and would ask her who she is to judge as insufficiently pious others - to the point of doing them harm by hurting their livelihood?

The mixture of business and religion to this extent makes for a stench that probably grosses out God.

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What's weird about this case is that the woman who was fired practices the same religion as the owner, yet she was fired because she wouldn't participate in prayer time on the job, relevant context in dispute.

Hobby Lobby didn't fall out the sky. It was selected because someone thought it could win a religious exemption case against Obamacare. Five male conservative Catholic supreme court justices did the dead.

The Catholic Church argues contraception is as immoral as abortion. The seems insane to me.

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I have a volume of Catholic catechism from either the late 19th or early 20th C. It has the nihil obstat and imprimatur required for a text to be considered true to Catholic dogma. The title is something to the effect, "The One Catholic Church, The One True Church of God" or some such thing.

It's a large volume and I am sure was meant as much for display of piety as for edification.

Two items always struck me as particularly interesting. The first was the papal warning against Americanism. That makes me chuckle. But the second concerns the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." In explaining the Ten Commandments the writer addressed the issue of capital punishment. The writer stated that when the lawful magistrate imposes capital punishment that the Commandment is not violated.

A hundred years later Catholic dogma absolutely rejects capital punishment.

I would not be surprised if a hundred years from now Catholicism acknowledges homosexuality as being intrinsically ordered, accepts married priests and acknowledges women as qualified to be clergy.

I believe that if there is a Deity that the Divine One moves along with humanity as humanity grows in its betterment of the species. Not that human beings will ever be perfect. And god knows that this is a slow process. But in a few thousand years parts of the human world finally realized slavery is evil, that sexuality is far more complicated than a boy pokes a girl and babies burst forth and that life and the universe is far more complicated and elegant and beyond imagination in the eloquence of its expression. The road is long; total perfection will never be achieved. But so long as we strive to be better we as a species will grow in our own being and in our closeness to the perfection of The Deity.

With that we conclude the sermon of the day.

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Catholicism & what I assume is Evangelical Christianity barely acknowledge that they share common origins. They certainly don't consider themselves of the same church.

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... American fundamentalist and evangelicals, to get them on board the anti-abortion (and now anti-birth control) band wagon, based on their shared aversion to homeosexuals. So the historic antipathy of fundamentalists towards Catholicism has been greatly muted (in the public sphere at least).

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The conservative catholic church made common cause with American fundamentalist and evangelicals on abortion, and surprisingly on contraception.

Contraception, as a U.S. political issue, was the cause of catholic bishops in the US. Meanwhile most Catholics in the US approve of it using contraception and use it at one time or another in their lives to prevent unwanted pregnancies and as a prophylactic against venereal disease.

Pope Benedict (Ratzinger) waged an ideological war on liberal thought in catholic institutions.

Pope Francis, the Jesuit, wants the catholic church to focus on Christ's teachings, not liberal or conservative causes or political engagement. At least that's my understanding.

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...they're happy to serve as fellow travelers in the war against human rights. Oh excuse me, I meant diabolical secular humanism stuff.

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Years ago I was talking with a Protestant fellow who asked me if Catholics were Christian. This was from a gentle, kind and very loving person whose father is clergy. I don't believe he has any quality of the hysteria that religious who froth at the mouth over controversies. He genuinely had never been exposed to Catholic history.

I believe that religious fervor comes in different varieties. There is short term fervor and long term fervor. Short term happens when person has an epiphany or believes that there butt was saved from a terrible calamity by Divine intervention. Long term is genetic. It represents a genetic (or perhaps evolutionary psychological) adaptation that that developed as part of being social creatures.

Then there are the psychological varieties of people including those for whom power is the greatest reward in life. That may also be genetically based.

Combined the long term religious fervor with the ambition of power above all else and we get religious leaders some of whom wind up being good overall and others who wind up being very bad overall, but like most in life both with have elements of good and bad. But in the case of Fundamentalists such as Falwell (how's Hell Jerry?), Pat Robertson, and now people who are mostly concerned with making money who also have the religion bug, there are people for whom the scale of bad tends to weigh more heavily if not absolutely chucks the good they do off the scale.

It is no wonder that the modern party where power at any rate is the underlying motto beds with religious people. It is the confluence of wanting absolute power bedding with people who believe that they are absolutely right (no matter how wrong they often prove themselves to be).

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I wonder how many other crummy companies are pulling the same sort of crap in Boston under the guise of being a progressive tech company for the upwardly mobile.

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...if you find any.

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The key issue will be whether the foundation is a separate entity from the parent company. You could probably set up a company-funded foundation that is a fully religious organization, but I would think you need to more cleanly separate it from the funding company. Otherwise, they are employees of the bigger entity assigned to the foundation, not employees of the foundation directly.

There are a lot of avenues available to treat the foundation as separate from the parent company. They missed their opportunity to use them.

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I have no idea if this accusation is legit. But the anti Christian and Catholic response shocks me. Can,t we just discuss the accuracy of the allegations without defaming 75 to 80 percent of the country.

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...the truth of the matter is that Christians enjoy a very privileged position in this country, and are way too accustomed to being able to introduce their religion into various aspects of public life. When that privilege is curtailed, many Christians fail to see it for the egalitarian treatment that it is, and loudly cry discrimination. So when you complain about an "anti Christian and Catholic response", I'm inclined to ask exactly what that response is. Is it truly "anti Christian and Catholic"? Or is it merely a case of treating Christians like everyone else?

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The arguments are, at best, anti-religion.

The issue is imposition of religious activities on the part of a company. The religion is Christianity. If the plaintiff were told to pray to Mecca 5 times a day (okay, it would be 3 at most while at work) and discussions of the Koran took place, the comments here might be different, but the same underlying issue would be there.

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When churches, catholic or protestant or other, engage in politics to advocate for national policy, whether it's limiting access to contraception, limiting access to abortion clinics, expanding exemption from employment law, they stop acting like a church and start acting like a political interest.

The policy they advocate is for everyone, not just their flock. They have the right. They also have the responsibilities that come with it, fielding fair and unfair criticism.

Christ had no opinion on the moral question of contraception yet the Catholic Church has taken a strong stand against it, as strong as their opposition to abortion for chrisake. I think they deserve a lot of criticism for this. It's bad policy for America, it's counterproductive for people interested in reducing abortions, and it diminishes the Catholic Church in the US because it divides it along political lines.

It appears Jing Zhang wants to terminate employees of her religious foundation for not participating in a prayer group but the court has found she didn't establish her foundation in a way that gives her the exemption from employee law that allows it. In other words, it may be that employment law already provides the exemptions that allows a religious foundation employer to terminate someone on the basis of declining to participate in a prayer group.

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