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Jury Upholds Workers' Bible Reading During State Homosexuality Seminar

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    CALLED OUT From the Baptist Press (Southern Baptist Convention) ... Monday, August 5, 2002 Jury Upholds Workers Bible Reading During State Homosexuality
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2002
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      CALLED OUT

      From the Baptist Press (Southern Baptist Convention)

      -----------------------


      Monday, August 5, 2002
      Jury Upholds Workers' Bible Reading During State Homosexuality
      Seminar
      By Staff
      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
      conduct...."

      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
      www.aclj.org.
      --30--



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