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ROY v. COHEN

June 22, 1984

STEPHEN J. ROY AND KAREN MILLER, Plaintiffs
v.
WALTER COHEN, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUIR

 I. Introduction.

 Stephen J. Roy and Karen Miller refuse to use a social security number for their three-year-old daughter, Little Bird of the Snow, on the ground that doing so would be contrary to their native Abenaki Indian religious beliefs. As a result, the Defendants have terminated cash assistance and medical assistance benefits for Little Bird of the Snow payable to the Plaintiffs. They have also initiated proceedings to discontinue food stamps for Little Bird of the Snow. In this lawsuit, the Plaintiffs assert that the Defendants' refusal to provide them welfare benefits to which they would be entitled but for their failure to use a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow constitutes a violation of their right to free exercise of their religion under the first amendment to the United States Constitution. Defendant Margaret Heckler is the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Defendant John Block is the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Defendant Walter Cohen is the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW). This case was tried by the Court sitting without a jury from May 17 through May 22, 1984. The following are the Court's findings of fact, discussion, and conclusions of law.

 II. Findings of Fact.

 1. Plaintiff Stephen J. Roy is an Abenaki Indian.

 2. Mr. Roy's great-grandfather on his father's side was a tribal chief in an Abenaki tribe.

 3. Mr. Roy's grandfather on his father's side was a full blooded Native American Abenaki.

 4. Mr. Roy is registered as a Native American Indian with the Three Rivers Council.

 5. Karen Miller is the wife of Stephen J. Roy.

 6. Defendant Walter Cohen is Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ("DPW").

 7. As Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Defendant Cohen has overall responsibility for administration in Pennsylvania of the federal-state programs of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, 42 U.S.C. § 601, et seq., Medical Assistance to families with dependent children, 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et seq., and food stamps to low-income households, 7 U.S.C. § 2011, et seq.

 8. Defendant Margaret Heckler is Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS").

 9. As Secretary of HHS, Defendant Heckler has overall responsibility for administration of the federal-state programs of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Medical Assistance to families with dependent children.

 10. Defendant John Block is the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA").

 11. As Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Defendant Block has overall responsibility for administration of the federal-state program of Food Stamps to low-income households.

 13. Applicable regulations of both HHS and USDA (7 C.F.R. § 273.6; 42 C.F.R. § 232.10) reiterate that requirement which has been followed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

 14. Stephen J. Roy and Karen Miller have two children, Renee, age five, and Little Bird of the Snow, age three.

 15. The Plaintiffs adhere to Native American tradition and culture and the religious beliefs embodied in that tradition and culture.

 16. The Plaintiffs observe several cultural practices which have their foundation in Native American belief.

 17. The marriage of Karen Miller and Stephen J. Roy was accomplished in accordance with Native American custom.

 18. Mr. Roy and Ms. Miller are raising their children in accordance with Native American tradition and religious beliefs.

 19. Renee and Little Bird of the Snow Roy are enrolled on a Native reservation.

 20. Little Bird of the Snow was so named during a traditional Indian ceremony performed by Roy and his elder daughter Renee after the birth of Little Bird of the Snow. In this ceremony, Roy and Renee buried Little Bird of the Snow's placenta (so that her "spirit could take root"), said a prayer over it, and named Little Bird of the Snow upon seeing a "sign" -- a small goshawk that appeared to emerge from the snow.

 21. Little Bird of the Snow Roy was born at the Williamsport Hospital, Williamsport, Pennsylvania on December 28, 1980.

 22. Shortly after the birth of Little Bird of the Snow, her mother, Karen Miller, signed an application for a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow which was then submitted to the Social Security Administration by personnel at the hospital. Miller signed the application without Steven Roy's knowledge.

 23. Following receipt of the application, the Social Security Administration established a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow and mailed a social security card for Little Bird of the Snow to Plaintiffs Roy and Miller.

 24. When Roy received the social security card for Little Bird of the Snow, he questioned Karen Miller about it and Miller stated that she did not recall signing the application form. Roy and Miller then agreed to and did return the social security card to the Social Security Administration. Roy requested that the Social Security Administration "revoke" the social security number established for Little Bird of the Snow. He was advised that Little Bird of the Snow's social security number would remain "dormant."

 25. Little Bird of the Snow's social security number has been provided by the Social Security Administration to the Internal Revenue Service and has been entered in the Social Security Administration's earnings file.

 26. To date, no use has been made of Little Bird of the Snow's social security number.

 27. Plaintiff Roy sincerely believes that the government's use of the social security number established for Little Bird of the Snow will "rob the spirit" of Little Bird of the Snow and will prevent him from fully "preparing her for greater power."

 28. Plaintiff Roy sincerely believes that a social security number is part of a "great evil" as contained in Native American legend.

 29. Roy's view is that the great evil -- "as described in the legend of Katahdin" -- results from the merging together of three different but related evils. One of these evils is the widespread use of computers. Another of these evils is people's casual acceptance of the widespread use of computers. The third evil is the proliferation of weaponry which increasingly employs computer technology, thereby making the use of the weapons to kill people a "sterile" act.

 30. Abenaki religious tradition holds that control over one's life is essential to spiritual purity and indispensable to "becoming a holy person."

 31. Roy sincerely believes that the decision of whether or not to use a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow must be made by Little Bird of the Snow.

 32. Mr. Roy's objection to the use of a Social Security Number for Little Bird of the Snow is consistent with and supported by the religious teachings of Native Americans in general.

 33. Roy believes that the establishment of a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow, without more, has not "robbed her spirit," but widespread use of the social security number by the federal or state governments in their computer systems would have that effect.

 34. On January 1, 1982, Stephen J. Roy began receiving cash assistance and medical assistance for himself and his two daughters, Renee and Little Bird of the Snow. This assistance was provided by DPW and HHS pursuant to the federal-state programs of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Medical Assistance to Families with Dependent Children.

 35. On April 27, 1982, DPW personnel advised Mr. Roy that he had failed to provide a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow.

 36. DPW personnel stated that a social security number is required by federal and state statutes and regulations as a condition of eligibility for assistance for Little Bird of the Snow.

 37. Mr. Roy offered to cooperate in finding an alternative to obtaining a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow Roy in order to restore her welfare benefits.

 38. DPW personnel refused to consider any alternatives to requiring a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow.

 39. Mr. Roy refused to furnish a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow on the ground that doing so would be contrary to his religious belief.

 40. On September 17, 1982, Mr. Roy's cash assistance under Aid to Families with Dependent Children was reduced because DPW held Little Bird of the Snow to be ineligible for benefits. Similarly, DPW discontinued medical assistance for Little Bird of the Snow. The sole basis for these actions was Mr. ...


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