January 2018 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A state court has ruled that a former public school bus driver in Pennsylvania who argued that her employer violated her religious freedom by terminating her after she refused to undergo a background check that includ­ed providing fingerprints can’t be denied unemployment compensation.

In the January 2017 lawsuit, Bonnie Kaite of Altoona argued that her evangelical Christian beliefs prohibit her from being fingerprinted because the Book of Revelation prohibits the “mark of the devil,” which she interprets as including finger­printing. She argued that she believes pro­viding fing­er­prints would prevent her from going to heaven.

The state’s Unemployment Compensation Board of Review previously found that Kaite’s beliefs were per­sonal, not religious, but Judge Joseph M. Cosgrove’s Nov. 29 ruling overturns that, noting that unfamiliar beliefs can still be considered religious.

“She [Kaite] is being forced to choose between fol­lowing her religious beliefs and forfeiting benefits or abandoning her religious beliefs,” Cosgrove wrote. “This imposition is a violation of [Kaite’s] constitutional right to free exercise of religion.”

A spokesman for Altoona Student Transportation, Inc., Kaite’s former employer and a private firm that contracts with the school district to provide transportation services, noted at the time the lawsuit was filed that the firm was merely following state law. In the aftermath of Penn State University coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sexual abuse case in 2011, the state had tightened background checks for anyone who works with children.