Bible Belted

A controversial case involving God and tacos heads back to Square One

Even then, Ogden notes, the judge could decide the jury is wrong. Despite Carroll's comment about the "clear weight" of the evidence, the jury in June hardly seemed conflicted. Other juries may not feel differently.

The EEOC knows that it'll be a tough case to win. For while the law tries to protect all sincere religious beliefs, juries can be skeptical.

After all, it's one thing to protect a Muslim's right to wear her headscarf. That belief is clearly delineated in the Koran and shared by millions. No matter what the law says, it's harder to argue that one lone woman has heard God's call to teach her subordinates.

Of the entire pool of prospective jurors in the June trial, only about half indicated that it was possible for someone to believe God was calling them to teach a Bible study, says Sandra Padegimas, an EEOC attorney.

"On the law, this has always been an easy case," she says, sighing. "But if we were pulling jurors from Kentucky or Texas or South Carolina, I'd be feeling a whole lot better!"

Still, Padegimas knows that publicity from the case has been a boon to the agency's efforts at education: "I'd like to think that other employers will look at this case and think, 'Do I want to pay my lawyers that amount of money? Or do I want to do something now to prevent ever going there?'"

Indeed, with so much money spent, it's ironic how easily -- and inexpensively -- the case might have settled. According to documents recently filed with the court, the EEOC made a written offer to settle for $90,000 in January.

A year prior, the Serranos had offered to settle for $5,000. This time, they didn't even respond.

Their attorney, Ogden, later told the judge that the biggest issue was the press release that the EEOC sends out when a case is closed -- an odd point, considering how much media attention the case has generated by going to trial.

But the Serranos have fought too hard to stop now. No matter what Judge Carroll does, it's clear that the family isn't likely to fold.

"This case will never settle," Ogden vows. "We will try this case forever. It doesn't matter how long it takes, how much money it takes, we will never settle this case. If it's five million dollars, we will never settle this.

"I would try this case for free before I'd let that happen."

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