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RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

IN THE US POSTAL SERVICE

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The law enforcement branch of the U.S. Postal Service has written a new, 5 page code of conduct. It was approved in 1996-NOV by K.J. Hunter, head of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Service employs 4,600 inspectors, police officers and support personnel who investigate mail fraud, track down mail bombers, etc. All must now agree to the code in writing.

The anti-discrimination code states, in part:

"Employees acting in an official capacity will not directly or indirectly authorize, permit or participate in discrimination based on age, gender, ethnic origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation against anyone, whether or not they are employees. Because we are a law enforcement agency, off-duty conduct that demonstrates an inability to be fair, objective and unbiased in dealings with others will not be tolerated."

A number of concerns may be raised about the code:

bulletThe Right to Discriminate on the Basis of Race: Most Inspection Service employees who are members of Christian Identity denominations, or of the KKK or other similar racist organizations probably feel that they have a God-given right to discriminate on the basis of race. They are taught by their leaders that African-Americans form an inferior race.

This concern raises an interesting question: when in history should the Federal Government add a new group of persons to the list of protected classes and insist that its employees cease discrimination? 150 years ago, there were many groups with diminished civil rights. e.g. women, African-Americans and homosexuals. During the 19th century, many established religious groups favored the preservation of slavery; some denominations were split into separate organizations: one pro-slavery and one anti-slavery . During the first two thirds of the 20th century, many churches and other organizations actively promoted hatred and oppression against African-Americans in the form of racial segregation. However, by the 1970's there was strong support throughout the US for an end to racial discrimination. Race became a protected class, within government, education, industry, commerce, etc. In 1995, the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, issued an apology to all African-Americans for its past racist policies, and for any residual racism still present in the denomination. Christian Identity groups still promote discrimination, but they are a minority fringe group within Christianity.

bulletThe Right to Discriminate against Women We suspect that some employees who are members of Fundamentalist Christian denominations will feel that they have a religious right to discriminate against women, particularly in matters of power sharing. They follow the writings of St. Paul who seriously restricted the authority of women in church and home (and by extension in the work place). Here we see social transition in progress which is much like the change over race in previous decades. In the mid 1990's, the main remaining bastions of discrimination against women are the Armed Forces which restrict certain activities to men, and conservative religious organizations which still allow only men to be ordained or hold positions of authority. In its prohibition of discrimination against women, the Inspection Service is echoing similar codes of conduct elsewhere in the US.
bulletThe Right to Discriminate against Homosexuals: Some employees feel that they have a moral right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Most are believed to be members of conservative Christian faith groups which still teach that homosexuality is a chosen and changeable "lifestyle" rather than a pre-determined sexual orientation. They also interpret the Bible as saying that homosexuality is a sin, and that same-sex couples in committed relationships will be excluded from heaven.

The same sequence of events which was followed over race and gender is now occurring with regard to sexual orientation. By the mid 1990's, a majority of American adults were in favor of equal rights and protections for gays and lesbians. The more liberal Christian denominations are now promoting equal rights, just as the more conservative groups are actively opposing these same rights. Gays and lesbians are gradually being defined as a protected class throughout the country. Leonard Hirsch, president of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Employees of the Federal Government (GLOBE), said all Cabinet-level departments except the Pentagon now have rules barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. Corporations, most notably in the high-tech and entertainment fields, are following suit. Again, the Inspection Service is echoing similar codes of conduct elsewhere in the US.

bulletThe Right to Discriminate against Persons of a Different Religion The code does not include religion as a protected class. An employee of the Inspection Service would appear to be free to discriminate against Baptists, Wiccans, followers of Native American spirituality, etc. This is a strange and important oversight that we feel should be corrected quickly.
bulletThe Right to Discriminate while Off-Duty This would seem to prohibit an Inspection Service employee from taking an active role in an racist, sexist or homophobic organization after working hours. This is a fundamental restriction on the employee's freedoms of speech and association. Mr. Hirsch justified the regulation of after-hours conduct. He said that "Law enforcement is different because of the public trust that is mandated for employees of law enforcement agencies...It is not unheard of to have a higher standard of behavior"

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Sources

bulletAFA Action Alert mailing list, American Family Association, 1996-DEC-31
bulletRowan Scarborough, "Postal Code Seen As Silencing Anti-Gay Views", Washington Times, 1996-DEC-31
bulletYou might wish to direct comments to the US Postal Service

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