The clash between gay rights laws and religious freedom has acquired two new fronts in recent weeks, both involving Christians who say they were punished on their jobs for actions that reflect religious disapproval of homosexuality.
In one case, a Georgia counselor has filed a federal suit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), saying that she was fired after she found someone else to counsel a lesbian about her sexual relationship. In the other, a Los Angeles police officer is suing the department, saying it has denied him promotions and pay raises because of a sermon that he gave at a church that cited a biblical verse on homosexuality.
The Georgia case began last August when Marcia Walden, a licensed associate counselor, was asked by a CDC employee, identified in Ms. Walden’s lawsuit only as “Ms. Jane Doe” to provide counseling for the employee’s same-sex relationship. At the time, Ms. Walden was a counselor with Computer Science Corp. (CSC) - a private company that had been contracted to provide counseling services to the CDC.
According to Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), Ms. Walden concluded that her own religious beliefs that sexual relationships between gays is immoral precluded providing proper counseling to Ms. Doe. Therefore, she sent the CDC employee’s case to a colleague who did not share her religious convictions.
“We’re dealing with a situation where a woman, who is an African-American and a Christian, works with a private company that contracted with the federal government,” said Mr. Lorence, whose group is representing Ms. Walden. “She didn’t feel she could do a good job, so she referred [Ms. Doe] to a counselor down the hall who could see her immediately.”
Ms. Walden had counseled homosexuals in the past, but not with regards to same-sex relationships, her complaint states.
Nevertheless, according to the complaint, she was subsequently accused of homophobia and extensively questioned about her Christian faith by her supervisor. Within three days of her referring Ms. Doe, Ms. Walden was suspended without pay by Computer Science Corp. and fired outright three weeks later.
Her lawsuit, filed earlier this month with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, seeks both punitive and compensatory damages, accusing the CSC and CDC of violating her First Amendment rights, and says the CDC pressured the company into firing Ms. Walden.
CDC spokesman Dave Daigle said it is the agency’s policy “not to comment on personnel matters or matters that are or may be in litigation.”
Computer Science Corp. did not return multiple calls for comment.
Mr. Lorence said his client’s actions were “normal” by professional stan dards, whereby a counselor is not supposed to take on a case in which he sees a potential conflict of values or interest.
“Under their canons of professional ethics, with some regularity, conflicts will come up whereby a counselor will recognizes a personal conflict - maybe the counselor is falling in love with the client, or the client’s problem is too similar to something the counselor experienced while growing up - and refers the matter to another counselor,” Mr. Lorence said.
The complaint states that Ken Cook, the counselor to whom Ms. Walden referred Ms. Doe, later reassured Ms. Walden that she had made the right decision in referring the case to him and that Ms. Doe described the help she received from Mr. Cook as “exemplary.”
The termination of Ms. Walden’s employment presents a real danger to Christians in the workplace, Mr. Lorence said.
“Basically, what the government is saying is that if you have a sincere religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, then your beliefs or conscientious objection can never be accommodated in the workplace,” he said, claiming that this leaves religious people with the option of quitting their job, getting fired or violating their conscience.