A newspaper editor in Iowa was fired from his job because he wrote IN HIS PERSONAL BLOG about his Bible-based beliefs on homosexuality being a sin.
In most cases whether or not a practice or belief is religious is not at issue. However, in those cases in which the issue does exist, the [Equal Employment Opportunity] Commission will define religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. This standard was developed in United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965) and Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970). The Commission has consistently applied this standard in its decisions. 1 The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee or prospective employee. The phrase “religious practice” as used in these Guidelines includes both religious observances and practices, as stated in section 701(j), 42 U.S.C. 2000e(j).
Daniel Finney and William Petroski report for The Des Moines Register, July 23, 2014, that Bob Eschliman, former editor of an Iowa newspaper, Newton Daily News, filed a complaint this week with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Milwaukee claiming he is a victim of religious discrimination by his former employer because he was fired May 5 after publishing his views on homosexuals in his PERSONAL blog.
If the dispute isn’t resolved to Eschliman’s satisfaction, he could sue in federal court to seek financial damages.
In late April, Eschliman, 41, a member of Christian Reformed Church of Newton, Iowa, wrote a personal blog post criticizing the “Queen James Bible,” a website that rewrites sections of the Bible to make homosexuality acceptable. In his blog, Eschliman accused “the LGBTQXYZ crowd and the Gaystapo” of trying “to make their sinful nature right with God.”
Jim Romenesko, who hosts an eponymous widely-read online blog about the news media, reported on Eschliman’s post and questioned whether Eschliman, in light of his publicly stated views, would be able to fairly cover issues involving gays.
Romenesko claimed he had emailed Eschliman inquiring if he could report about homosexuality objectively because of his published views. Eschliman ignored Romenesko’s correspondence, but removed the post from his personal blog.
Shaw Media, a Dixon, Ill., company, suspended Eschliman with pay and eventually fired him. Eschliman’s attorneys claim that violated his constitutional rights of religious expression. Newton Daily News Publisher Dan Goetz declined to comment Wednesday.
After Eschliman’s dismissal, the Newton newspaper published an editorial by Shaw Media President John Rung, who wrote: “Last week, he expressed an opinion in his personal blog that in no way reflects the opinion of the Newton Daily News or Shaw Media. While he is entitled to his opinion, his public airing of it compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”
The Liberty Institute, a Dallas nonprofit legal firm that advocates for religious freedom, has taken up Eschliman’s case. Jeremiah Dys, a senior lawyer with the Liberty Institute, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that he believes Eschliman has a strong case. He was joined by former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, who now has a private law practice and will also be representing Eschliman. Whitaker said, “No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs. In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing a religious belief in public. This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s welcoming workforce.”
Eschliman, a Boone native and U.S. Navy veteran who is married with two young children, has worked as a writer and editor for seven different companies, garnering almost 70 journalism awards. Seven awards came while he was editor in chief of the Newton newspaper, according to his attorneys.
But Eschliman said Wednesday that he has had difficulty finding employment since his dismissal, “particularly here in Iowa.” He said his writing, which some considered objectionable, was posted on a personal blog that was read mainly by family members and friends.
Mark Kende, a constitutional law professor at Drake University, said that at first glance, it appears that Eschliman has a potential case, “I am not saying the newspaper does not have an attempted defense, but federal laws generally prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion.” Kende described the case as untypical because the behavior in question occurred outside the workplace.
Eschliman “is arguing that they are firing him for his religious beliefs, and to the extent that the comments he made are based on his religion, that doesn’t seem frivolous,” Kende said. “But having said that, if I were the company, I would say that we are not firing him for his religious beliefs. We are firing him because his job is to be an impartial reporter, and as an impartial reporter he has lost his credibility, so it has nothing to do with his religion.”
Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, said she takes religious liberties and the rights of journalists very seriously, noting she worked previously in Washington, D.C., as chief of staff of the Interfaith Alliance. But she also said Eschliman’s comments overstepped boundaries, describing his use of the term “Gaystapo”as horrific and suggesting he failed in his responsibility to be fair and objective.
“Certainly, his bosses at Shaw Media did what they felt they needed to do. I find his words disconcerting,” Red Wing said. “I am not a lawyer, but if he were working for me, I would fire him.”
H/t Christian News and FOTM’s Sig94