Jury Upholds Workers' Bible Reading During State Homosexuality Seminar
- CALLED OUT
From the Baptist Press (Southern Baptist Convention)
Monday, August 5, 2002
Jury Upholds Workers' Bible Reading During State Homosexuality
ST. PAUL, Minn. (BP)--A federal jury has found that Minnesota
officials violated the constitutional rights of state employees when
it punished them for reading their Bibles during a state-mandated
diversity training session on homosexuality.
The Aug. 1 verdict "sends a very loud message to government officials
that they cannot single out and punish employees for their religious
beliefs," said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel of the American
Center for Law and Justice, which represented the employees. "The
jury clearly let the state of Minnesota know that punishing employees
for expressing their religious views is not only wrong, but violates
their basic constitutional rights as well."
After a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, a
nine-person jury unanimously agreed that the Minnesota Department of
Corrections had violated the free speech and equal protection rights
of the employees and had discriminated against them on the basis of
their religion. The jury awarded the employees damages totaling more
than $78,000, including an award of $60,000 for punitive damages.
The ACLJ filed suit in April 1998 against the corrections department
on behalf of Thomas Altman and Ken Yackly to force the agency to
rescind the reprimands Altman and Yackly received in 1997 when they
attended the state-mandated training session called "Gays and
Lesbians in the Workplace." The employees contended the training
session was little more than a state-sponsored indoctrination aimed
at changing their religious beliefs about homosexuality.
The employees attended the training session and did not interfere
with the presentation. From time to time, however, they read silently
from their Bibles. They were never told to put away their Bibles and
were subsequently reprimanded "for inappropriate and unprofessional
In 1999, a federal district judge found that the actions of the state
violated the free exercise of religion -- but threw out the rest of
the ACLJ suit which focused on free speech and equal protection
claims. The ACLJ appealed that part of the decision to the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In a May 2001 decision, the
appeals court reversed the lower court decision, ordered that the
case go to trial and rejected claims by the state that the employees
were guilty of insubordination.
"Our clients never had an issue with the desire of the employer to
ensure that co-workers treat each other with respect and dignity,"
said Manion, who argued the case before the jury. "But when the state
of Minnesota tried to force these employees to change their beliefs
about homosexuality, the government crossed the line and violated
their constitutional rights. These employees did nothing more than
bring their Bibles to a training session with which they disagreed,
and they were punished for it."
Manion said he pleased that the jury decision "upheld the
constitutional rights of our clients."
The American Center for Law and Justice, based in Virginia Beach,
Va., specializes in constitutional law and is on the Internet at
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