Brooklyn, NY – Former Chaplain Sues Prison System, Bosses For Religious Discrimination


    Metropolitan Detention CenterBrooklyn, NY – A Williamsburg rabbi and a former prison chaplain filed suit in Brooklyn federal court this week, charging both the federal prison system and the people he worked for with several allegations including religious discrimination.

    Rabbi Naftali Ausch had been working as a chaplain at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park for three years when he first found himself facing issues at work in 2012.

    His new boss, Reverend David Barry, seemed to take issue with Rabbi Ausch’s need to take time off from work for the Jewish holidays. According to Rabbi Ausch, Reverend Barry, a Catholic priest, would often tell him that there was nothing wrong with not observing his religious holidays.

    “He would say to me, ‘It’s okay to violate the holiday; G-d will forgive you,’” Rabbi Ausch told VIN News.

    Rabbi Ausch said that the problems began in earnest when Reverend Barry refused to allow him to take off for Rosh Hashana. According to Rabbi Ausch, he had emailed notification of the upcoming holidays to Reverend Barry months earlier, but the emails were not opened until the day before Rosh Hashana.

    “He tried very, very hard to tell me I had to come in anyway but ultimately he let it go,” said Rabbi Ausch. “I thought I would be safe after that but then he tried it again on Yom Kippur.”

    When that happened, Rabbi Ausch approached the warden, who told Reverend Barry that Rabbi Ausch was entitled to take off time for a religious observance.

    “He tried to say he didn’t know about the holiday but the warden told him, ‘as a supervisor you should know these things. You have a calendar on your wall,’” recalled Rabbi Ausch.

    Succos proved to be another source of contention but once the yomim tovim were safely behind him, Rabbi Ausch hoped that his troubles were in his rear view mirror as well.

    But when Rabbi Ausch, who worked a Monday to Friday schedule, brought up the subject of Purim several months in advance, he suddenly found himself switched to a Sunday to Thursday routine. Protesting the swap, Rabbi Ausch was allegedly told once again that G-d would forgive him if he went into work on Purim.

    Refusing to accept the schedule change, Rabbi Ausch was suspended without pay for two weeks. Feeling he had been unfairly targeted and subjected to repeated hostility at work, Rabbi Ausch filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    “It was what they had told us to do during our training,” said Rabbi Ausch. “If you have a problem, you report it. Little did I know that by doing that I committed suicide.”

    A new Jewish inmate brought into Metropolitan Detention Center during Rabbi Ausch’s suspension added more fuel to the fire. Although Rabbi Ausch was not scheduled to be at work, he went to bring the inmate’s tefillin to the prison, x-raying the tefillin himself to ensure that they contained no forbidden items.

    “I would have asked someone about bringing the tefillin in but it was after 5 o’clock and none of the people I needed to speak to were in,” said Rabbi Ausch. “The previous warden had always said if I needed something for the religion, I should just do it because he didn’t want Washington coming after him for denying an inmate’s religious rights.”

    When the inmate was released shortly thereafter on a Friday night, he told prison officials that he couldn’t take his tefillin and was leaving them for Rabbi Ausch to bring home the following week. Calling the prison to make arrangements to retrieve the tefillin, Rabbi Ausch discovered that he was in hot water and several months later, he found himself the subject of a Department of Justice inquiry because of the tefillin.

    “They told me that I was under heavy investigation but that if I quit they would drop the investigation,” said Rabbi Ausch.

    Investigators combed through Rabbi Ausch’s phone records asking why he had called specific numbers.

    “They changed some of the digits of numbers I had actually called in their paperwork, and then said I was contacting the families of non-Jewish inmates,” said Rabbi Ausch. “But I never even called those numbers.”

    Rabbi Ausch was fired from his job at the Metropolitan Detention Center in October 2015 and was told he had been terminated for bringing contraband into prison.

    A year and a half later, Rabbi Ausch still finds it hard to believe that bringing a religious item into a prison was adequate grounds for his dismissal and his lawsuit charges that he was subjected a hostile workplace, unfair retaliation for his EEOC complaint and religious discrimination.

    “I didn’t commit a crime,” said Rabbi Ausch. “I brought in tefillin. Officers who accidentally forget and bring in guns and jeopardize the whole building, they get reprimanded and go back to work. I brought in tefillin and they found a law to throw me out. Tefillin is worse than dynamite. It’s unbelievable.”

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    1. In 1966, I was an Airman in the U.S. Air Force, at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio. I was under the supervision of an African-American Sergeant. I’m only mentioning his race, because I thought that as a minority, he would be able to relate to the request of someone, who was from a minority religion. When I told him that I needed to take time off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he became agitated and stated “Your work is more important than your religion”. I explained to him that General Wood (who commanded the base at that time), had issued an order, mandating that all Jewish service personnel be given those holidays off. I read about the order, in the local Air Force publication. The reaction of that Sergeant was just as hostile, as before. He stated “I haven’t seen any order”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a copy of the order. However, his subordinates later located the order, and told me that I was in the clear to that time off. However, that momzer Sergeant didn’t have the guts to admit to me that he was wrong. To this date, over fifty years later, I still recall that unpleasant incident, during the High Holidays.

      • My Zaide z”tl who served in the same unit as Iriving Berlin in the 152nd Depot Brigade had a completely different experience. A red neck soldier heckled him while putting on his tefillin, the base commander witnessed the incident and personally had the red neck thrown into the brig. This was in 1917! 100 years ago!

        • When your zayde was in the armed forces they were segregated, the issues Nachum faced wouldn’t happen to your zayde as there wouldn’t be a minority sergeant.

    2. It seems that there are many such stories.My wife had a similar experience in 1986 at Maimonides Medical Center as a medical professional trying to get off for Shavuos .They would not accept religion as a excuse .As she took off every Shabbos , they felt that she was taking too much advantage .

    3. I feel so sorry for R. Ausch. Some of us go through so much suffering under the management of Anti-Semites…May Hashem take revenge for us speedily in our days.

      • #8 Of course work is permitted on Purim. Its the principle. Who is he to dictate what religious holidays we have? There are a certain amount of days one can take off for religious purposes. Employers have to allow you to take them. They can dock your pay for that day but they still have to allow you to take the days that you claim as your religious days. Under the law, any retaliatory action against you in the work place can be actionable. Hence his suit. I hope he wins big.

      • you can work there just won’t be any hatzlacha from it.

        I can understand a galach saying that it’s muter to work on purim and not caring about the halacha’s guarantee of lack of hatzlacha, but chasidim?

    4. These issues come up again and again. 1) There are anti-semites and there is no way around it. 2) There is no thing as Religious freedom when it comes to a paid job – they will find a way around it if they want to. 3) You should be aware of what will be required of you before you take any job.

      B”H I don’t have any experience with the prison system and chaplins, but I do see a slight problem with the situation here though. Shouldn’t a prison chaplin be there at the prison for religious festivals? Isn’t that what he is there for? What if the Rov of your shul decides to go away for every Yom Tov saying that its a Yom Tov so he should not have to work! Is being a chaplin just another job, or is he there to help the people who are unfortunately behind bars? Isn’t he there to help the prison system understand what religious Jews need and help provide it? Who is the Bal Tefila on Rosh Hashona? Blows Shofar? Gives the drosho on Shabbos Shuva? Surely the Prison Chaplin would be a part of it. Ok, so he doesnt come on Yom Tov, but Purim? Why would he not want to be mesameach fellow yidden on Purim?

    5. To #13-TrumpinWhiteHouse- Your sarcastic remark comparing the situation with #2 and #7, was not funny. Both situations, no matter what the race of the perpetrator were despicable. It is easy for you to make jest of such matter; however, you were not the one, who was on the receiving end of such bigotry!


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