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Supreme Court Rules in Headscarf and Threatening Speech Cases

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 02, 2015 11:55 AM

Free practice of religion and free speech. Our First Amendment protections are a little bit stronger after two of the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. and Elonis v. United States.

Here is what you need to know about these decisions:

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.

Seven years ago, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch. Elauf wore a headscarf for religious reasons. At an interview with an assistant manager, Elauf was told that the company's "look policy" restricts wearing too much makeup, black clothing, or nail polish, and Elauf's headscarf was not mentioned. Even though the assistant manager suspected that Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons, Elauf was not hired because the head gear was banned by the company's look policy.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), on Elauf's behalf, sued Abercrombie & Fitch for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII prohibits employers from refusing to hire an applicant because of her religious practice.

Abercrombie argued that it never actually knew that Elauf wore her headscarf for religious reasons because Elauf never said anything about it. So, Abercrombie claimed that it didn't actually treat Elauf differently because of her religion.

The Supreme Court ruled that it doesn't matter if an applicant told an employer of her need for a religious accommodation. Employers cannot consider an applicant's religious practices, suspected or confirmed, as a factor in employment decisions.

Elonis v. United States

Jerks on Facebook now have a little bit more protection.

Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man, posted rap lyrics alluding to his desire to kill his wife, an FBI officer, and a kindergarten class on Facebook. Elonis was arrested and convicted under a federal law criminalizing making "any threat to injure the person of another." Elonis doesn't deny that he made the comments, but he does contend that he did not intend for the comments to be threats, so he should not be convicted under the law.

Before the Supreme Court, the government argued that they only need to prove that a reasonable person would believe that comments made are a threat. Alternately, Elonis argued that the prosecution needs to actually prove that Elonis intended for his comments to be a threat.

The Supreme Court sided with Elonis ruling that Elonis either had to intent for his comment to be a threat or know that others would view his comments as threats.

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