A federal appeals court won’t be taking up the case of Gregory Tucker vs. Faith Bible Chapel International, as a June 7 decision by the 10th Circuit Court declared that they do not have jusirdiction to hear the interlocutory appeal.
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A federal appeals court won’t be taking up the case of Gregory Tucker vs. Faith Bible Chapel International, as a June 7 decision by the 10th Circuit Court declared it did not have jusirdiction to hear the interlocutory appeal.
The case will now go back to district court for a ruling, unless FCA appeals the decision to the United States Supreme Court.
Tucker vs. Faith concerns the Feb. 26, 2018, firing of Gregg Tucker, who taught at the private school in Arvada for 12 years. Tucker alleges he was fired shortly after hosting a chapel meeting addressing “a number of disturbing incidents of racism,” according to a letter he wrote on Jan. 6, 2018.
In its defense, FCA used an interlocutory appeal — an appeal filed before the district court initially hearing the case came to a decision — and has attempted to invoke the ministerial exception; a doctrine that bars the application of anti-discrimination laws to ministers employed by religious organizations.
Tucker’s defense has argued the ministerial exception doesn’t apply in this case because Tucker was a secular teacher at the school.
In rejecting Faith’s appeal, the 10th Circuit Court stated that, “The Supreme Court has only permitted immediate appeals from the denial of qualified immunity when the issue presented for appeal is one of law, not fact. Here, on the other hand, the critical question for purposes of the ‘ministerial exception’ is the fact-intensive inquiry into whether Tucker was a minister.”
Richard Katskee, the vice president and legal director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State — Tucker’s legal counsel — confirmed the next steps in the case will include going back to district court for a trial, which will in part prove whether or not Tucker was a minister.
“He isn’t, he’s a really good teacher, but not a minister," Katskee said. "And also, what the injuries to him are and what the damages are. The other side can seek Supreme Court review. I won’t be surprised if they do.”
FCA Superintendent Andrew Hasz said the school was considering its options after the decision.
“The case raises very important First Amendment issues, including avoiding church-state entanglement,” Hasz said in an email to the Arvada Press. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that courts should not second-guess a religious school’s decision on who teaches its students about religion.
“That protection is very strong here, as the plaintiff was our school’s chaplain and left following a disagreement about how he led a chapel service,” Hasz continued. “The panel’s opinion also appears to sharply conflict with rulings from other federal appellate courts and state supreme courts. We are reviewing the decision and will plan next steps in consultation with our legal team.”
Ramya Sinha attended FCA from second to 12th grade from 2007 to 2018 and was a student at FCA’s high school, where Tucker taught from 2014 to 2018. Sinha, who is Black, said she was discriminated against by white students on the basis of her race while at FCA, and sought out a trusted adult in Tucker for refuge.
Sinha said she was pleased with the 10th Circuit Court’s decision and hoped that it would bring FCA closer to being held accountable for their “culture of white supremacy.”
“I have so much joy hearing this news,” Sinha said. “I believe that the court’s decision to throw the appeal is a great step in the right direction towards necessary accountability and justice. For decades so many people have been harmed by Faith Christian Academy and they need to know that their oppressive and harmful actions will be met with consequences."
Katskee outlined specific incidents of racism and explained Tucker’s response, characterizing Tucker’s actions as those of “a really good teacher.”
“The school had some really ugly problems with racism, there were students who showed up in KKK robes, students who did mock executions of students of color in the school,” Katskee said. “Gregg did what a really good teacher does, he tried to educate the students, teach them about racism and make them see what they had done in that way. That’s really good stuff.
“Then some parents complained, parents of kids involved in perpetrating these racist incidents. What the school did was say, 'We can’t risk losing one parent's tuition over one unhappy parent,' so they fired Gregg,” Katskee continued. “And that meant that they fired him for teaching that racism isn’t a good thing. That fits into the category of a discriminatory firing, particularly because Gregg had been subjected to this awful hateful stuff as well. He didn’t respond by getting angry, he responded by trying to teach.”
The Arvada Press will continue to follow this case as it develops.
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