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Baz v. Walters

January 28, 1986


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Danville, Division. No. 80 C 2189 -- Harold A. Baker, Judge.

Author: Cudahy

Before CUDAHY, ESCHBACH, and COFFEY, Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge. Franklin Baz, formerly a chaplain of the United States Veterans Administration (V.A.), brought suit against two of his superiors at the V.A. Medical center in Danville, Illinois and the V.A. administrator, alleging disparate treatment in employment on the basis of religion. He sought reinstatement and backpay under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and damages under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The district court found that Reverend Baz had not carried his ultimate burden of persuasion on the Title VII claim*fn1 and that the limitations put on his religious practice while working as a government chaplain contravened neither the free exercise nor establishment clauses of the First Amendment. Reverend Baz appeals several of the trial court's findings with respect to his Title VII claim and the trial court's conclusion that the First Amendment was not violated. We affirm.


Franklin Baz received a Bachelor's degree in Bible and Theology from Southeastern Bible College of Lakeland, Florida in 1967. He as ordained a minister of the Assemblies of God Church in 1970. For the next six years, he held part-time positions as associate pastor and hospital chaplain while continuing his schooling; in 1976, he was graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina with a Master's degree in Divinity.

In 1977 Reverend Baz applied to the V.A. for a full-time chaplain position. Although he lacked the required three-year post-graduate parish ministry experience, he was appointed a chaplain on September 6, 1977. He was assigned on a probationary basis to the V.A. Medical Center in Danville, Illinois, a full-service medical facility with between 1000 and 1200 patients, including approximately 800 psychiatric patients. During Reverend Baz's tenure at Danville, there were four other chaplains on the staff: Chief of Chaplains John W. Devine, a Protestant, who left Danville in December 1977; Reverend John H. Peninski, a Roman Catholic; Reverend Gary H. Johnson, a Protestant; and Reverend Taylor D. Neely, a Protestant, who arrived in February 1978 and succeeded Reverend Devine as Chief of Chaplains.

The district court noted that Reverend Baz "from the beginning . . . had difficulty in the discharge of his duties," recounting incidents in which Reverend Baz accepted honoraria for conducting funerals and borrowed money from a patient to purchase gasoline, both violations of V.A. regulations; failed to follow regulations in requisitioning a film, "The Cross and the Switchblade," to show to patients; was not punctual in his duties at the hospital; and failed to maintain adequate records of patient contact. Baz v. Walters, 599 F. Supp. 614 (C.D. Ill. 1984). The district court concluded, however, that

[these] matters . . . while they appeared to have entered into the plaintiff's termination, are not the primary or even the significant reason he was discharged. The crux of the plaintiff's problems lay in his relationship with the patients and with the medical staff and in plaintiff's view of his ministry and his calling to preach the Gospel.


Most of Reverend Baz's clashes with the hospital administration occurred after Reverend Neely had arrived at Danville.

The plaintiff had been placed in charge of the Sunday evening "sung service." it was intended, Reverend Neely says, as a recreational period for the patients with music as a main attraction. The plaintiff had changed the format of the event to a Christian evangelical service. He preached and encouraged musical participation in a manner that Reverend Neely interpreted as proselytizing. On one occasion, Reverend Neely recalled, a sermon the plaintiff gave containing [sic] an illustration of threatening harm to a child's eye with a pair of scissors. The Reverend Neely found this totally inappropriate for a patient group which was largely psychiatric in nature and tended to concretize illustrations. Reverend Neely also found the methods employed by the plaintiff to be contrary to the Veterans Administration regulations against proselytizing. Consequently, the Sunday evening services were transferred to the recreational department and the plaintiff was excluded from them. Reverend Neely recounted other problems the plaintiff had in dealing with patients at the Medical Center. There were incidents in which the plaintiff interfered with the decisions of the medical staff. An example was given of a patient of advanced age who was dying and the plaintiff decided that the physicians were not caring properly for the patient. So the plaintiff telephoned the patient's daughter and asked her to intervene and have her father's course of treatment changed. On other occasions the plaintiff entered the operating amphitheater to pray while the physicians were engaged in surgical procedures. That occurred on four occasions, according to the plaintiff's statement, and as near as I am able to tell from the testimony, he did not have the approval of the physicians to enter the operating room on three of these occasions. Another incident was recounted by Reverend Neely involving a patient who had received the sacrament of communion and was experiencing feelings of guilt because he had done so. The plaintiff, Reverend Neely says, contradicted the assurances of forgiveness and comfort which Neely was emphasizing to the patient and instead reinforced the plaintiff's feelings of guilt and dependency. In short, the plaintiff's view of his function as a Veterans Administration chaplain in a Veterans Administration hospital with psychiatric patients was decidedly different from the demands of his superiors. The plaintiff saw himself as an active, evangelistic, charismatic preacher while the chaplain service and the medical staff saw his purpose as a quiescent, passive listener and cautious counselor. This divergence in approach is illustrated by the plaintiff's listing "twenty-nine decisions for Christ" in his quarterly report of activities of the Veterans Administration. It was one of the matters pointed out to the plaintiff by Reverend Neely as unacceptable conduct on the part of the Veterans Administration chaplain.

Id. at 617-18.

Reverend Neely testified that he attempted to "counsel" with Reverend Baz about his difficulties and that Reverend Baz took this as a series of reprimands. Reverend Baz contacted Reverend James Rogers, the national Director of Chaplain Services, and Reverend Theodore Gannon, the leader of the Assemblies of God Church, to enlist their aid. Both men visited Danville; after his visit, Reverend Rogers suggested that Reverend Baz be transferred to a general medical facility (one without a large psychiatric population like Danville). Reverend Neely tried to do this, but before the transfer came through, Reverend Rogers retired as Director of Chaplain Services and was succeeded by Reverend Corbin Cherry. Reverend Cherry decided that Reverend Baz should be discharged. He testified as to his reasons: (1) Reverend Baz should never have been appointed to the chaplaincy because he lacked the requisite post-graduate pastoral experience; (2) the planned transfer was to a facility in which Reverend Baz would be the only full-time chaplain, which Reverend Cherry though unwise; and (3) chaplains would have to be shuffled between six or seven hospitals to effect this transfer.

Reverend Baz's employment was terminated on September 1, 1978. His written notification listed five reasons for the action: (1) failure to demonstrate appropriate professional skills for a psychiatric facility; (2) difficulties in assuming responsibilities for punctuality in meeting appointments and completing assignments; (3) failure to demonstrate ability to understand a multi-disciplinary approach to patient health care; (4) failure to understand the need to work within established procedures to accomplish ...

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