Houngan sues Christian university for discrimination

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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands – A Vodou houngan and “practitioner of witchcraft” is suing a Christian university for discrimination in the U.S. territory of Northern Mariana Islands.

The report first came across Christian Wire, a distributor of religious content news and press releases. According to reports, Mr. Zaji Obatala Zajradhara, who is an Afro-Latino U.S. citizen, is suing Eucon International University, for alleged religious discrimination after he applied for a job at the university’s business office in January 2018. He was denied the position allegedly in favor of a non-US applicant.

Afterward, Zajradhara initiated a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for discrimination and a second complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor that the university violated U.S. citizen employment preference before hiring foreign workers.

In mediation with the university in May 2018, the case between the parties was settled and EUCON reportedly agreed to hire Zajradhara on October 1, 2018. The university claims it “felt coerced” into hiring Zajradhara. The EEOC then dismissed the discrimination complaint.

According to a new complaint, Zajradhara reported for work at EUCON on October 3, 2018. As part of his onboarding, he signed several documents including a statement of faith that was required by the university. At that time, Zajradhara allegedly stated he followed his own ancestral religious beliefs and practices.

Mr. Zaji Obatala Zajradhara [mixcloud.com]

According to reports, Zajradhara informed the university that he “is a priest of Houngan, a Haitian form of voodoo.” Houngan refers to male priests in Haitian Vodou whereas a female priest is a mambo.

Over the next two days, Zajradhara claims he was accused of misbehavior and laziness by co-workers. On October 5, 2018, Zajradhara claims he was terminated at EUCON because his attire was inconsistent with EUCON’s religious ideology. EUCON reportedly stated in a letter on October 12, 2018 that Zajradhara was being terminated because of his refusal to accept essential employment documents that include a contract but also his religious beliefs were in opposition with EUCON’s teachings.

Subsequently, Zajradhara, who is reportedly well-known to local courts for championing discrimination claims against local businesses and was named a “persona non grata” for such, initiated another complaint with the EEOC for employment discrimination based on religious beliefs. He subsequntly received a Right to Sue notice. A Right to Sue notice is not a determination of culpability. It is a letter issued by the EECO stating the agency has verified a claim which, if proven, would be unlawful discrimination under US federal law. The letter clears the way for a lawsuit of this type to proceed in federal court.

Northern Mariana Islands District Court records obtained by TWH suggest the legal complaint against the university was filed on May 6, 2019 after receiving the Right to Sue Notice. The complaint was served last month, and counsel designated on August 16, 2019. The case was sent to conference with jury demand on August 21, 2019 after legal counsel was obtained and affirmed by all parties.

The university in question is EUCON International University which states it “offers English-language instruction toward bachelors degress [sic] in Bible, Education, and plus certificates in Chinese Missions and in English as Second Language (ESL). Room, board and tuition are reasonable and work scholarships are available.” It also operates a K-12 Christian school at the same location. The university states the term “EUCON” is a “transliteration of the Chinese you guang meaning “Excellent Light”. EUCON International University has adopted this name to affirm its commitment to Jesus Christ, “the true Light” (John 1:9).”

EUCON Logo [EUCON]

EUCON’s mission is “to provide quality biblical education in a Christ-honoring and Spirit-filled environment so that students may be introduced to Jesus Christ, trained in godly character and spiritual discipline, and equipped to be Christian servant-leaders in their societies and reach their homelands for Christ.”

EUCON is reportedly a ministry of the Baptist church under the leadership of Christian Wei, Ph.D., Ed.D. who also runs and founded Christian Way Missions Inc in Greenville, South Carolina which appears to be the parent organization or sponsor of EUCON. The university is a member of the American Association of Christian Schools (AACS).

EUCON is accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a national educational accreditation agency that focuses on Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries seeking collegiate accreditation in the United States. According to the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), TRACS “was created “Because of the prejudice against creation-science, outspoken creationist schools” that had “little or no chance of getting recognition through accreditation.”

Since the lawsuit, EUCON/CWI has retained the services of attorney Joseph E. Horey of the firm O’Connor Berman Horey & Banes, LLC.

However, EUCON has also gained the attention and apparent support of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) headed by Mr. Brad Dacus. According to their website, “Pacific Justice Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. Pacific Justice Institute works diligently, without charge, to provide its clients with all the legal support they need.”

Dacus commented that “This case illustrates how well-intended and important workplace discrimination laws can be horribly misused and abused. We intend to vigorously defend this Bible school as long as it takes to achieve justice.”

Mr. Matt Reynolds, PJI’s lead attorney on the EUCON case added, “No Christian school should ever be forced to hire or pay off a voodoo priest. At a bare minimum, the First Amendment means a religious institution must be allowed to choose those who will affirm and advance their mission and beliefs.”

Mr. Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute speaking at the Tea Party Patriots American [Photo Credit Gage Skidmore – Wikimedia Commons, CC A-S A 2.0]

The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Pacific Justice Institute as “an anti-LGBT hate group founded in 1997 by Brad Dacus. PJI and Dacus have compared legalized gay marriage to Hitler and the Nazis’ ascent in Germany; endorsed so-called ‘reparative’ or sexual orientation conversion therapy; claimed marriage equality would lead to legal polygamy and incest; fought against protections for trans children and fabricated a story of harassment by a trans student; and said that LGBT History Month promotes gay pornography to children.”

Attorney Daniel Guidotti of Marianas Pacific Law, who is representing Zajradhara, said his client was subjected to a hostile workplace. Guidotti added that “CWM intentionally discriminated against Zajradhara because he is of Afro-Latino descent and because he is dark skinned.” EUCON denies the allegations.

TWH will continue to follow the story.