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A U.S. civil rights ruling dealing with anti-gay verses in the Bible

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bullet"The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals...[called] the Scripture verses 'demeaning and degrading'." Stuart Shepard, Focus on the Family. 1
bullet"The law is that individual employees have the right to be free of religious discrimination in the workplace.  You can't be fired simply because you put up a Bible verse." Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel. 1

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Rich Peterson had worked for Hewlett-Packard in Boise, ID for 21 years. The company had conducted a diversity program which had the slogan: "Diversity is Our Strength." The program was supported by posters in the workplace which showed gays and lesbians at work. Peterson made some posters of his own. They incorporated Bible verses which, in most English translations of the Bible, appear to condemn all homosexual behavior. Peterson's attorney, Chris Troupis, said: "In response, he was confronted by a supervisor who told him he needed to take the Scripture down"  Peterson offered to remove his posters if the company removed theirs. This was not considered acceptable by the employer. Peterson was fired in 1998. He initiated a lawsuit for improper dismissal, asking for one million dollars in damages.

Some reactions:

bulletTroupis commented: "Either the (court is saying that) Scripture itself is offensive and hurtful and therefore can be prohibited, or (that it) can, if somebody puts up a Scripture, figure out what's in their head and...can be the thought police." [It seems obvious from the Court's comment that the former is the case: that certain verses in the Bible are demeaning and degrading if shown in the workplace. These might include passages that treat women as property, the promotion of genocide, stoning non-virgin brides to death, etc.] Troupis claimed that the court unfairly portrayed Peterson as a religious extremist. He warned that the ruling could silence freedom of religious expression in the workplace. He said: "While the words used in the scriptures he quoted might be strong, the method he chose to express his beliefs was the least intrusive possible." He didn't talk to anybody, he didn't corner anyone, and nobody complained."
bulletMat Staver, of the Fundamentalist Christian group Liberty Counsel, said that the ruling is an outrage. He said. "The law is that individual employees have the right to be free of religious discrimination in the workplace. You can't be fired simply because you put up a Bible verse."

Peterson expects to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. As of 2004-JUL-4, the case has not proceeded.

This essay continues below.

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Details of the case:

One of the quotations was the verse Leviticus 20:13 from King James Version : "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." Peterson had allegedly admitted that this quotation was "intended to be hurtful," and that its purpose was to emotionally hurt gay employees so that they would be motivated to change their behavior.

On 2004-JAN-6, a three judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that found that the employment termination did not violate Peterson's rights. The court called his portrayal of Scripture verses "demeaning and degrading." They said that his posters were not protected as his free exercise of religious expression. They noted that no other employee or group was allowed to post disparaging material. Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that "Peterson offered no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that would support a reasonable inference that his termination was the result of disparate treatment on account of religion." The ruling noted that the employer made no effort to force Peterson to change his beliefs; they did not object to his anti-gay letter to the editor that was printed in The Idaho Statesman. They did not deny Peterson a parking space in the company parking lot because his car bore the bumper sticker: "Sodomy is Not a Family Values. [sic]"  Reinhardt also wrote that: "Peterson may be correct that the campaign devoted special attention to combating prejudice against homosexuality, but such an emphasis is in no manner unlawful. To the contrary, Hewlett-Packard's efforts to eradicate discrimination against homosexuals in its workplace were entirely consistent with the goals and objectives of our civil rights statutes generally." Reinhart said that it would have been an "undue hardship" for the employer to allow Peterson to retain his posters, or that both the diversity and anti-gay posters be removed. Either route would have hurt the company's effort to "attract and retain a qualified, diverse work force, which the company reasonably views as vital to its commercial success."

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  1. Stuart Shepard, "Court Upholds Firing over Bible Verses," Family News in Focus, 2004-JAN-8, at: http://www.family.org/

  2. "US court upholds firing for anti-gay Bible quotes," Reuters, 2004-JAN-6, at: http://www.forbes.com/

  3. "Court upholds firing of HP employee," Associated Press, 2003-JAN-7, at: http://www.ktvb.com/

  4. Bob Kick, "Appeals court upholds firing for posting anti-gay verses," Associated Press, 2004-JAN-6, at: http://www.mercurynews.com/

  5. The text of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision is online at: http://www.danpinello.com/

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 Home page >  Christianity > Bible & the world > Hate content > here

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JAN-9
Latest update: 2004-JUL-4
Author: B.A. Robinson

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