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Missouri Family E-News

November 12, 2013

                          
Chaplains File Suit Over Religious Harrassment 

 

Two military chaplains have filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging religious harassment during a VA chaplaincy training program.

 

Retired U.S. Army Major Steven Firtko and Navy

Commander Dan Klender were participants in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program operated by the San Diego office of the Veterans Affairs Department.

 

The program trains and assigns chaplains to VA hospitals and medical centers in the San Diego area. 

 

The lawsuit claims that Nancy Dietsch, the program's supervisor, repeatedly mocked and ridiculed the two chaplains

for their Christian convictions.

The suit alleges that Dietsch told students they were not to quote from the Bible during classroom discussions, and that she did not permit chaplains to pray "in the name of Jesus" at public ceremonies.

On one occasion, Firtko says he made reference to the Lord's Prayer in class, and Dietsch pounded on the table angrily, shouting "Do not quote Scripture in this class."

Dietsch also allegedly derided Biblical standards on salvation, saying that there were many ways to heaven, and that no one religion is right.  Firtko says Dietsch further stated that if he held to his beliefs about evolution and homosexuality, he did not  "belong in the program."

The lawsuit claims that Dietsch threatened to remove Firtko from the program unless he chose to renounce his Biblical beliefs.  When he refused to do so, he was placed on probation.  Firtko was subsequently notified in a letter that he had been dismissed from the program. 

Klander left the program voluntarily, saying he was no longer interested in being subject to Dietsch's harassment.

The lawsuit has been filed by the Military-Veterans Advocacy group on behalf of the chaplains' sponsoring organization, the Conservative Baptist Association of America.  John Wells, a former navy commander and attorney for the group, says no solider should be subjected to anti-religious bigotry.

"No American choosing to serve in the Armed Forces should be openly ridiculed for his Christian faith.  Not only was the treatment these men received inappropriate, it was also a violation of the Religious Freedom Protection Act and the religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment."

This is just the latest episode unearthed by
Fox News reporter Todd Starnes detailing hostility to the Christian faith in military circles.  And it is not the first time such anti-
Christian bigotry has been reported in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA was the center of controversy two years ago when veterans groups were outraged over developments at the National Cemetery in Houston, Texas. 

Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion honor guards were told they could no longer make any references to God during funeral rituals.  The veterans groups said  they were also told they could no longer invoke God's blessings in expressing condolences to the families of deceased veterans.

The orders came from cemetery director Arleen Occasio, who also ordered that the chapel's bell chimes no longer be rung.  She then proceeded to remove the cross, the Bible, and the Star of David form the chapel, and convert the building to storage space.

During the Memorial Day ceremony that year, Occasio informed Pastor Scott Rainey that he would be removed from the program unless he promised to eliminate the name of Jesus from any of his prayers.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs subsequently entered into a consent agreement in federal court preserving freedom of religious expression during burial services at veterans' cemeteries.

The VA agreed not to "ban, regulate, or otherwise interfere with prayers, recitations, or words of religious expression..."  U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ordered Occasio not to dictate the content of prayers or speeches, "whether denominational prayers or otherwise."
   
  

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U.S. Senate Approves Special Job Rights
for Homosexuals

The United States Senate has approved legislation granting special rights to homosexuals and "transgender" individuals under federal employment law.  The bill, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), poses a serious threat to the religious freedom and spiritual integrity of many Christian ministries, institutions, and employers.

The Senate approved ENDA by a vote of 64-32.  The bill would add so-called "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected classes under federal workplace discrimination statutes.

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill voted for the measure.  Missouri Senator Roy Blunt voted against the proposal.  The bill now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives, where its future is uncertain.

Under the legislation, it would be a federal offense "to  fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual...because of such individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."  The bill would also make it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate in the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis of "sexual orientation" or "gender identity."

Under current federal law, found primarily in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, individuals are protected from employment discrimination based on immutable characteristics they may possess, such as race, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability.  Employers may also not discriminate against an individual based on their fundamental right of religious freedom.

Under ENDA, for the first time, individuals would be protected from bias in employment practices because of their personal conduct and behavior, in this case the practice of sexual perversion.  Homosexuals and individuals who claims to be "transgendered" would be able to file complaints against employers with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and file lawsuits in federal court.  The U.S. Attorney General would have the authority to prosecute cases of alleged "sexual orientation" discrimination.

Proponents of ENDA claim that religious freedom is preserved because of an exemption included in the bill for religious employers.  The exemption provision refers to existing language in the Civil Rights Act regarding religious entities. 

That language establishes an exemption from anti-discrimination law for "a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion."  The scope of the exemption is essentially limited to organized church denominations and their legal affiliates. 

Federal courts have interpreted the Title VII exemption to apply to "churches, synagogues, and the like, and organizations closely affiliated with those entities."  The exemption has never been found applicable to an institution "not wholly or partially owned by a church."  A Congressional Research Service analysis correctly states that "independent Christian and other religious schools not owned, financed, or controlled by church bodies may find it difficult to quality for the exemption in ENDA."

In fact, the Senate expressly rejected an amendment that would have made it clear that the exemption applied to businesses owned, controlled, or managed by a particular religion or religious corporation "in whole or in substantial part."

Thus, the exemption not only does not encompass private Christian schools, but also independent Christian ministries and parachurch organizations, or private businesses with a Christian emphasis such as a Christian radio station, Christian bookstore, or Christian publishing house.  Private corporations whose owners have established their businesses with a distinct Christian or Catholic mission would also fall outside the exemption.

As a result, a teacher in a private Christian high school could choose to "marry" a same-sex person in contradiction to Biblical principles, and the school would be unable to release him from employment for his defiance of church teaching.  An elementary school teacher in a Christian school (or a public school for that matter) could choose to dress as a transvestite, or even undergo a sex change operation, and the school would be unable to dismiss the teacher for such actions. 

The issue of religious freedom was the basis for Senator Blunt's vote against ENDA.  "I have a long history of supporting measures that protect religious liberty, specifically religious hiring rights.  The religious exemption in the bill is not broad enough to protect individuals and small businesses who wish to operate according to their religious convictions."

Aside from the dangerous provisions of the bill, the measure would legitimize in federal law the propagandistic terms of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."  The term "sexual orientation" has been pushed by the "gay rights" community to foster the false theory that homosexuality is an inbred characteristic predetermined at birth.  The term "gender identity" has been propounded to ensconce the notion that gender is a mental construct freely chosen by the individual rather than an anatomical fact.

Defenders of the bill point to a section of ENDA that allows employers to enforce "reasonable dress or grooming standards."  Yet this section is meaningless.  It further stipulates that an employer must allow an employee who has undergone or is undergoing "gender transition" to dress as the opposite sex.  "Gender transition" is not defined in the bill.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, says that ENDA will have a chilling effect on the ability of religious employers to conduct their personal lives and their businesses in accordance with their faith. "All employees are entitled to dignity and respect, but ENDA provides special protections for particular behaviors that Scripture and Christian tradition consider sinful. "

Dr. Keith Weibe, President of the American Association of Christian Schools, says that Congress should not elevate individual's sexual preferences above constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.  "We are deeply concerned about the devastating effect this legislation would have on the ability of Americans to follow the dictates of their respective faiths.  Schools in our association not directly operated by a church are at risk."

"This bill does not shield religious institutions from punitive measures by federal or state agencies," Wiebe adds.  "In light of recent actions by the Internal Revenue Service, ENDA's arbitrary language exposes Christian employers to a potential onslaught of litigation."

It is discouraging to note that only one Senator (Dan Coats of Indiana) had the wisdom and the courage to stand up on the Senate floor and speak in opposition to this pernicious and depraved legislation. 

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he is unreceptive to taking up the ENDA bill on the House floor.  Yet he will face unrelenting pressure to do so.  A combination of Democrats and moderate Republicans could provide the votes to pass the bill and send the measure to President Obama, who has crusaded for its passage.  Considering Congressman Boehner's history of caving on critical issues, his pledge to block the bill is anything but assured.

We strongly implore you to contact your elected Representative in Congress to urge their opposition to S.815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  You can do so by using this link:
Your Congressman

You can also contact Senator McCaskill and Senator Blunt to let them know how you feel about their votes on ENDA.

You can contact Senator McCaskill through this link:
Senator McCaskill

You can contact Senator Blunt at this link:
Senator Blunt

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