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Sexual Harassment or Religious Freedom?

Sexual harassment on the job Does the First Amendment right to religious freedom include the right of religious organizations to fire people for refusing the sexual advances of their employers, and for reporting those advances to the authorities?

You would think that the obvious answer to this would be No. You would think this would be the textbook definition of a no-brainer. You would think that nobody on this earth would even have to think about the answer to this question.

But apparently, the answer to this question is less obvious than you’d think.

Friendly Atheist has the story of Mary Linklater, former choir director at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, who was sexually harassed by her pastor and another prominent church member; complained; was cruelly retaliated against and eventually fired; sued; and won. The church is now appealing the judgment…

…on the basis of the “Ministerial Exception” — the legal principle that, because of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, religious employers have more leeway in hiring and firing than secular employers do, and can hire and fire based on religious criteria.

I’ll say that again.

The Prince of Peace Lutheran Church is claiming, in court, that resisting the unwanted sexual overtures of your pastor and boss is a “religious criteria.” They are arguing that screwing the pastor when he asks you to is part of the religious doctrine they adhere to, and that they have the right to fire someone who doesn’t adhere to it.

That’s sure what it looks like to me, anyway.

Ted_haggard What gets to me isn’t just the grotesque immorality of this position. I mean, of course, yes, that does get to me. But by now the idea that some religious leaders are repulsively unethical hypocrites, claiming a superior morality from their supposed special relationship with God while behaving in ways that a psychopathic chimp would find ethically revolting… this is so common that it barely registers on my radar anymore.

What gets to me is that this is their public, legal defense. This isn’t just how they rationalize their behavior to themselves, in the privacy of their brains, in the dark night of their purported souls. This is what they’re saying in public, the position they’re officially and openly painting themselves with. They apparently have no idea what a massive P.R. disaster this defense could be. Their rationalization is so deeply rooted, they seem to have no idea what it might look like to other people — parishioners, other church employees, the public at large — to insist that the right to sexually harass their staff and retaliate when they complain is a religious freedom, a doctrine of their faith that they have the right to expect their employees to comply with, guaranteed them by the First Amendment.

Pope It reminds me all too well of the Catholic Church, arguing in court that they have a First Amendment/ freedom of religion right to discipline their priests as they see fit, and to assign and re-assign priests as they see fit… including shuffling child-molesting priests around the country to shield them from arrest and prosecution.

I mean, think about it. Is that really the position you want to be arguing? That shielding religious leaders who commit crimes — especially sexual abuse crimes — is part of your religious expression, a tenet of your faith that you have every right to practice? Even if by some freakish twist you win the court case… is that really what you want to be telling the world about your faith?

Or perhaps, would you rather tell the world, “We are so sorry this happened, this is not who we are or what we stand for, we ask your forgiveness and will do whatever we can to make up for it?”

I’m just sayin, is all.

Comments

  1. says

    Presumably gawd told them to do the molesting, which makes it Good and Right in the eyes of the Invisible Sky Man and therefore perfectly reasonable? This is kind of the flip side of your recent meme about atheism not being an excuse for immorality – religion is all the excuse some people need. Or does it cease to be immoral if the pope/moroni/L.Ron Hubbard/Pat Robertson says it’s alright?
    Twas nice meeting you last night!
    S.

  2. Brock says

    I wouldn’t get too worked up about this unless the Maryland Supreme Court actually buys this argument.
    Lawyers can, and do, make ridiculous legal arguments all the time on behalf of their clients.
    I’m no fan of the practice, but it’s part of our legal culture, and is generally expected as part of “zealous advocacy”.
    I doubt there’s any actual rationalization going on here. The defendant just doesn’t want to pay the $1.3 million, and has a slight hope that this argument will get the church off the hook. I doubt it will.

  3. says

    I imagine if she had not resisted the pastor’s advances, they would be using the same ‘religious criteria’ to sack her on grounds that she was a ‘loose woman’.
    Quite literally, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  4. says

    I wouldn’t get too worked up about this unless the Maryland Supreme Court actually buys this argument.

    I think it’s very likely that the court won’t buy it. But I think my point still stands. The fact that the church would stand by this defense and think it was a good idea is morally appalling — even if it doesn’t hold up legally.
    Yes, lawyers make ridiculous arguments for their clients all the time. But if I’m not mistaken, clients have to right to direct their lawyers’ defense, and to reject a defense strategy that they don’t agree with or approve of. The fact that the church didn’t tell their lawyers, “Are you high? We’re not going to stand up in front of God and our church membership and the general public and say that sexual harassment is part of our religious doctrine, and that not going along with it is a valid ‘religious criteria’ for being fired. We’d rather lose and take the hit on our liability insurance rates”… that IMO, is very depressingly revealing of their true priorities.

  5. a says

    I’m sure they are not claiming religious reasons for sexual harassment. I would say they will claim it never happened and that she was fired for a different reason that is more religious in nature. You can’t assume they’re going to cop to harassing her and defend it.

  6. says

    a: I’m not sure they can claim that. This trial is an appeal; a jury already ruled in Linklater’s favor and found the church liable for over $1,000,000. I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong about this; but I don’t think you can appeal a case by re-trying the basic facts. And the basic facts, as found by the jury, were that she was harassed.

  7. llewelly says

    I’m no fan of the practice, but it’s part of our legal culture, and is generally expected as part of “zealous advocacy”.

    If a lawyer made up this argument, that lawyer did them a massive disservice. “zealous advocacy” should not include any argument which has so little a chance of winning and so great a chance of damaging the client’s reputation.

  8. Jon Berger says

    @Greta: you’re absolutely correct. The only issue you can raise in an appeal is whether something went wrong at trial; you can’t bring in new theories or new evidence. There’s no testimony in an appeal, no evidence, no jury, nothing like that. It’s just an analysis of the record of what happened at trial.
    I agree that it’s pretty appalling that they ran with this defense. On the other hand, it’s going to give the Maryland Supreme Court the opportunity to beat the crap out of them in a published opinion. I’m not sure how this works in Maryland, but in California, the Supreme Court doesn’t have any obligation to agree to hear a case; if they hear one that’s premised on as ridiculous a theory as this one, it’s because they want to administer a great big bench-slap. I expect it’s about the same there, and I expect you’re going to be highly gratified by the opinion when it comes out.

  9. says

    There’s something about the intersection of sex and religion that brings out the predator in a lot of otherwise decent people. It would really not surprise me if the pastor genuinely thinks that he has the God-given right to harass his church’s employees for sex.

  10. fastthumbs says

    @ Alvson,
    “It would really not surprise me if the pastor genuinely thinks that he has the God-given right to harass his church’s employees for sex.”
    I suspect the pastor did not (and perhaps still doesn’t) view making sexual advances as “harassment”.

  11. says

    What I’m curious to see is whether other churches
    – Openly repudiate this position, seeing the insult it represents and wanting to protect the reputation of religion
    – Openly embrace this position, hoping that they too can have the freedom to do anything without repercussions
    – Stay silent and hope no-one notices.
    If they had any real ethical beliefs, they would do 1 or 2; of course (at least for right-wing churches) the smart money is on 3.

  12. says

    I’d be curious to know how sheltered an experience it is to be in the church hierarchy. Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea’s The Perversion of Power talks about the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic church, and a lot of her discussion focuses on the degree to which a priest is, sometimes from his teens, kept within a closed community whose values, priorities and just simple experiences are different from everyone else’s – so things that seem self-evident to non-priests may be new thoughts to priests.
    I don’t know much about the Lutheran church, but the stupider wing of the Catholic church tended to react to scandal by feeling that any apology would dent the Church’s authority and that would be the worst thing of all – a view much easier to hold if you’re in the authority structure looking out than outside looking in. I wonder if the Lutherans are having a similar reaction: people of good faith should accept our authority, and anybody who thinks we’re making ourselves look bad is being sinful in judging us.
    It’s the kind of thinking that seems more likely in insular communities who aren’t very good at PR because they actually aren’t very well-informed about how everyone else works – it’s hard to judge what people will think of you if you don’t know how they think – so I wonder how insular the Lutheran hierarchy is.

  13. Jim H says

    @Alyson:

    It would really not surprise me if the pastor genuinely thinks that he has the God-given right to harass his church’s employees for sex.

    All too true. Think Utah, Waco, etc. But that still misses Greta’s point: that they are willing to admit this openly is something new…

  14. Rieux says

    By the same token, wouldn’t it be in atheists’ best interests for the church to win on precisely this logic?
    As you point out here, doesn’t every step religious bodies take to associate themselves with lawless barbarity contribute to the marginalization of religion from civil society?
    “Don’t want to be sexually harassed? Then don’t work for a church! They have the right to do anything to you they want!”

  15. DSimon says

    Rieux, I wouldn’t be willing to view that scenario as a win, because setting that precedent would create so much potential for harm to be done to people who are already within religious organizations.
    It shouldn’t be necessary to burn down the house to demonstrate why owning a smoke detector is a good idea.

  16. J. J. Ramsey says

    Greta Christina:

    but I don’t think you can appeal a case by re-trying the basic facts

    Maybe not, but part of the basic facts was that the pastor had made accusations against Linklater, giving the church a pretext to dismiss her. The lawyer could easily be arguing that while the pretext would be insufficient grounds for firing her from a secular institution, they were valid grounds under the ministerial exemption. Indeed, I find that far more likely than the idea that a Lutheran church would be “arguing that screwing the pastor when he asks you to is part of the religious doctrine they adhere to,” when it would be trivial to point out that Lutheranism has no such doctrine.
    I’m sorry Greta, but you are coming to unlikely conclusions based on a very iffy reading of the evidence. I thought that you had more of a commitment to rationalism than that.

  17. says

    Rieux: No, I don’t think that would be a win — for atheists or anyone else. What I think would be a win would be the scenario that Jon Berger proposes as the most likely from a legal standpoint (see comment above) — the scenario of the high court smacking down the church like the dogs they are.
    J.J.: Do you think it’s possible for you to express disagreement with people’s conclusions without insulting their commitment to rationalism? Thank you.

  18. J. J. Ramsey says

    Greta Christina: “Do you think it’s possible for you to express disagreement with people’s conclusions without insulting their commitment to rationalism?”
    Of course, but here your thinking seems so badly done that, especially in light of the caution that I’ve seen you display before, it’s hard to see it as anything but you letting your bias cloud your normally good judgment.
    The church in question had already trumped up more Christian-sounding reasons to fire her, e.g. “referred to her using foul and inflammatory language, and publicly accused her of extorting from the church.” This much is dead clear from the Friendly Atheist post to which you linked.
    You are contending that the church is now switching tactics completely and is now both owning up to sexual harassment instead of trying to sweep it under the rug as it (and other Christian institutions, like the Catholic Church, BTW) has previously done, and is now making an argument that is completely at odds with what is commonly accepted as Christian doctrine and would embarrass it in front of other Christians. The potential for embarrassment is already a red flag that your contention is likely on the wrong track.
    Further, this contention is based on vague wording about how the ministerial exception is being applied. That’s small support for such a huge contention.

  19. says

    J.J.: I’m not interested in discussing the actual issue with you right now. Please do not openly insult my character in my own blog. For that matter, please do not openly insult any other commenter’s character in my blog. If you want to disagree with my ideas, I encourage you to do so. But as I have made clear repeatedly, personal insults are off-limits in my blog. Thank you.

  20. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: J. J. Ramsey | January 17, 2010 at 10:11 AM
    From my reading of the story, the court had already found that the reason for her dismissal was retaliation for her reporting the sexual harassment.
    The accusations made by the pastor have already been found to be grounded in what amounts to sour grapes over her not sleeping with him.
    The only protection now would be ministerial protection for sexual harrassment.
    Which is to say it amounts to being the exact same argument as Greta pointed it out as being.
    The argument you are making is that basically it can’t be like that because that would be silly.
    Well, if we judged on that basis we wouldn’t have had Fox News going to court to defend its right to fire reporters because those reporters refused to lie on TV.
    And winning on appeal on the grounds that journalistic ethics don’t count as industry regulations.
    The argument from absurdity is a logical fallacy because absurd things happen.
    If the Lutherans won this case they would not suffer any worse consequences in the long term than Fox did, it is a flash in the pan when it comes to news.

  21. says

    What Bruce said. We already have a previous example of a religious organization making the “The First Amendment right of religious freedom protects our right to do this illegal and morally reprehensible thing” — namely, the Catholic Church case that I linked to in this piece, where they claimed they had the First Amendment right to retain priests who they knew were molesting children and shuffle them from diocese to diocese. Why would it be such a stretch to see the Lutherans as doing the same thing?
    Yes, it’s absurd. But they’re doing it anyway. That’s my whole point.

  22. says

    Oh, and Bruce: I hadn’t heard that particular story about Fox News. What are the details? Do you have a link? Not that I’m even remotely surprised… I’m just curious.

  23. Bruce Gorton says

    Greta Christina
    What happened was Jane Akre and Steve Wilson had a report on RBGH linking it to cancer.
    WTVT, a wholly owned Fox affiliate, wanted to edit the story to say RBGH was perfectly fine thanks to the way Montesanto, one of their advertisers would have reacted.
    The pair refused, and later got fired. They went to court and won the first case on the basis that their firing was because they weren’t prepared to doctor the report – a violation of the FCC’s policy on news distortion (IE: Bullshit) – and thus violated pretty much the same rules to protect whistleblowers as the Lutherans did.
    Anyway, the case went to appeal and the court found that the FCC’s policy didn’t count as an adopted rule, therefore whistleblower protection doesn’t come into it –
    http://www.2dca.org/opinions/Opinion_Pages/Opinion_Page_2003/February/February%2014,%202003/2D01-529.pdf
    – and if you live in America there is actually no requirement that your news be honest. Quite horrifying really.

  24. says

    By the same token, wouldn’t it be in atheists’ best interests for the church to win on precisely this logic?
    If the atheists’ main aim is to be able to point to churches and say, ‘See? Bad places,’ yes.
    If the atheists’ main aim is to live in a world where religion does not get to overturn justice, no.
    I really don’t see how a church winning an unfair victory could be a victory for anybody but the church. It would give atheists complaining rights, but wouldn’t it be better for atheists to have nothing to complain about?
    This seems to me like a variant of liberals thinking that a liberal victory is terrible because it’ll cause a conservative backlash: this odd idea among some progressives that winning is losing and vice versa.

  25. J. J. Ramsey says

    Bruce Gorton: “The argument you are making is that basically it can’t be like that because that would be silly.”
    Well, there’s silly and there’s utterly absurd. We are talking here about a church that had gone to a lot of trouble to try to discredit accusations of sexual harassment. There is also the matter that Greta’s accusation entails the church saying that it has doctrines that most Christians would find grossly heretical.
    Greta Christina: “We already have a previous example of a religious organization making the ‘The First Amendment right of religious freedom protects our right to do this illegal and morally reprehensible thing’ — namely, the Catholic Church case that I linked to in this piece, where they claimed they had the First Amendment right to retain priests who they knew were molesting children and shuffle them from diocese to diocese. Why would it be such a stretch to see the Lutherans as doing the same thing?”
    Because the Catholic Church is not outright admitting guilt here. They are saying that the First Amendment gives them the leeway to administer their staff (namely the priests) however they like. This leeway, of course, is being used to sweep abuses under the rug. And yes, on those grounds, I would consider utterly wrong your claim that the Catholics are saying that child molestation is part of church doctrine.
    Actually, I do see the Catholic Church and this particular Lutheran church as doing the same thing, but that thing in question is just not what you are alleging, which amounts to the church in question openly admitting heresy.

  26. J. J. Ramsey says

    Sorry for the double post.
    Bruce Gorton: “The argument from absurdity is a logical fallacy because absurd things happen.”
    Yes, absurd things can happen, but absurd things are less likely to happen, and if one is going to assert that something absurd has happened, then one better have really good evidence. Or as others have put it, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” You don’t have good evidence that the church in question is admitting heresy in a court of law.

  27. MariaAnn says

    The argument likely boils down to: how much room does a ministerial exception have? Because a religious organization has more room to fire people for all reasons and no reason, does sexual harassment fall into that category? Policy wise it does come down to a question of whether we think churches are immune from sexual harassment suits. Legally, however, it comes down to how far should we/can we extend the doctrine of the exception.
    As someone who would love to see that exception more or less disappear, I hope they lose. Regular at will employers can already fire you for any and all reasons (other than those that would violate the law) it makes very little sense to broaden that even further when we’re talking about churches.

  28. Paul says

    Greta, FWIW J.J. was banned from Pharyngula for repeatedly insulting PZ’s daughter, even after being asked/warned not to. It doesn’t seem he ever learned to play nice with the other kids. Just thought I’d mention it, as it could be pertinent with him posting here.
    Nice post, but you fail to understand why the Church could give a damn as to how the positions they take might affect how people perceive them. In the end, the only people whose opinions will be updated are the people who are either directly involved with the event (that is, a very small number of people) or the people already predisposed to be suspicious of the church’s motives. The vast majority of true believers will never let an event like this affect their worldview, and in fact most of them would never even hear about the event. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, you know. They are deeply ingrained to not let any negative views or opinions of the Church to get into their heads, because if they for a second falter and start thinking rationally instead of magically their Holy Father may condemn them to hell for not trusting Him enough.

  29. J. J. Ramsey says

    Paul: “Greta, FWIW J.J. was banned from Pharyngula for repeatedly insulting PZ’s daughter, even after being asked/warned not to.”
    Two problems with that accusation:
    First, by “insult my daughter,” PZ Myers meant “cited my daughter as an example of the sort of strident atheists I said didn’t exist by pointing out that my daughter had called a bunch of theists retards.” That is, my “insult” amounted to pointing out that his daughter had insulted other people.
    Second, if I want to be cynical, I could say that by “several times, after being warned,” Myers meant “once,” though if I want to be less cynical and more fair, I’d have to say that his lapse is probably due to a failure of memory rather than a failure of honesty.
    And if it seems rather odd that Myers would be so lax with the facts, bear in mind that it wasn’t even a year prior that he had been similarly lax in saying of Ed Brayton of the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, that he “loathes atheists, and would like to see them silenced.”
    Sorry to bring that up, but when slander is brought up, should I not defend myself?

  30. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: Paul | January 18, 2010 at 08:55 AM
    I disagree with the J.J. on a lot of things, including what constitutes slander, but in all fairness leave blog drama to the blogs in question – it tends to hijack other discussions.
    Ramsey’s fight with Myers isn’t relevant here – its his arguments here that are relevant.

  31. Paul says

    I read the following from Greta:

    J.J.: I’m not interested in discussing the actual issue with you right now. Please do not openly insult my character in my own blog. For that matter, please do not openly insult any other commenter’s character in my blog.

    That set off bells regarding Ramsey, so I reported the pertinent information I recalled. It seemed relevant. I have no real interest in drama. I’ll admit it would have been more fitting in an email, but I didn’t note Greta’s address on the front page and didn’t think it merited digging.

  32. J. J. Ramsey says

    Bruce Gorton: “Ramsey’s fight with Myers isn’t relevant here – its his arguments here that are relevant.”
    Thanks.
    Paul: “Nice post, but you fail to understand why the Church could give a damn as to how the positions they take might affect how people perceive them.”
    I remember in the film Deliver Us From Evil that Father Tom Doyle talked about how the Catholic Church tried to maintain a good image, to present a front of propriety, which is which its leaders tended to try to bury and hide the crimes of its clergy. Indeed, that’s a tendency common in a lot of institutions, and I would expect it to hold in Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.
    There is also the not-so small matter that Christian churches’ doctrine against premarital sex often mutates into a more general, repressive sex-negative attitude, which is yet another reason for church members to publicly admit sexual harassment.
    Also, that no new facts are supposed to be introduced to an appeal would work against Greta’s contention, since revealing the existence of such a heretical doctrine as “screwing the pastor when he asks you to” would introduce a new fact to the case, while it had already been established that the church had fired Linklater after accusing her of things like “extorting from the church.”
    a, then, is probably right.

  33. J. J. Ramsey says

    “which is yet another reason for church members to publicly admit sexual harassment.”
    Excuse me, that should be “which is yet another reason for church members to not publicly admit sexual harassment.”

  34. says

    I would really like to stay away from the drama and meta-drama, if possible, as I think very few people are interested in it. J.J. has, for the moment, backed off from making personal insults in this thread and is focusing his comments on ideas; as long as that’s the case, I’d like for everyone else to also keep our eyes on the prize. Thanks.
    As to the actual ideas: I do think it’s absurd that the Church is defending their First Amendment freedom of religion right to commit sexual assault. (Both the Lutheran and the Catholic churches, in both cases.) But that seems to be what the facts suggest.
    Again, this is an appeals case, which legally has to take the facts and the basic finding of the original case as given — and the facts and the basic finding of the original case were that Mary Linklater was sexually harassed by her pastor, and was retaliated against by said pastor and other church leaders when she complained. The appeal is over the “Ministerial Exception” — i.e., the law saying that the church has the right to fire people on “religious criteria.” Given that it’s already been legally determined that Linklater was fired as retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, how else are we supposed to interpret the church’s case, except as a defense of the idea that their religious practice includes sexual harassment and retaliation against people who complain about it?
    (Ditto in the case of the Catholic Church — but replace “pastor committed sexual harassment and the church retaliated when victim complained” with “priests molested children and the Church protected these priests by moving them from diocese to diocese.”)
    Do I think the churches in this case are deliberately and consciously declaring that these acts are a central, First Amendment- protected part of their religious practice? No. I think what we have here is massive cognitive dissonance and the mother of all rationalizations. I think they want to (a) think of themselves as good people whose actions were defensible, and (b) not pay out the fines levied against them. They’re trapped in a corner on both counts, and this is how they see their way out of it. It’s totally absurd, and morally grotesque — but I doubt highly that they see it as either.

  35. says

    The vast majority of true believers will never let an event like this affect their worldview, and in fact most of them would never even hear about the event. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, you know. They are deeply ingrained to not let any negative views or opinions of the Church to get into their heads, because if they for a second falter and start thinking rationally instead of magically their Holy Father may condemn them to hell for not trusting Him enough.

    I don’t agree with this. The Catholic Church took a huge hit in membership when the “protecting pedophile priests” scandal broke. Not all believers are hard-core true believers; not all believers are terrified to question the rightness of their religious and religious leaders. Seeing that religious leaders can behave with gross immorality is one of the more common reasons people leave their particular religion, and even leave religion altogether.

  36. Paul says

    I don’t agree with this. The Catholic Church took a huge hit in membership when the “protecting pedophile priests” scandal broke.
    I don’t question your credibility, but I’d love a citation to some survey evidence. My extended family has a rather large Catholic component, and not a single one has deconverted (I’m well aware this is simply an anecdote). Hell, since the scandal several have reconverted…
    Also lacking: mass Catholic exodus when the Pope indirectly commits genocide by lying to Africans about condoms.
    In my worse hours, I think the only way to drive people away from Catholicism en masse is to actually try to enforce the prohibition against birth control. People generally only react when their beliefs are challenged personally, and most horrifying church actions are too easy to rationalize as not important because it’s someone else’s problem.

  37. Paul says

    Sorry to double-post, but I wanted to note something.
    Seeing that religious leaders can behave with gross immorality is one of the more common reasons people leave their particular religion, and even leave religion altogether.
    This is another data point against church scandals really affecting their bottom line in the long run. How much worse can it get than molesting parishioner’s kids and conspiring to hide it? It’s not like it was a problem confined to a small area. The current freaking Pope was part of the coverup. Yet the Catholic church still rakes in monthly tithes from millions. In light of that, does a little sexual harrassment of a woman who was probably asking for it anyway* really matter?
    A pessimist might hazard a guess that a certain number of people are predisposed with the faculties necessary to drop god-belief and/or magical thinking, and most of the others are lost (perhaps to drift between different ways of magic thinking, sure, but not to join the camp of the rational).
    *Not my view, but it’s not exactly a hard sell to a lot of people

  38. J. J. Ramsey says

    Greta Christina: “Again, this is an appeals case, which legally has to take the facts and the basic finding of the original case as given …”
    IIRC, in an appeals case, the facts are generally taken as given, but the points of law are argued. If the basic finding of the original case is based on a disputed point of law, then I’m not so sure that the basic finding is necessarily taken as given, at least if by “basic finding,” you mean something like a final verdict. I doubt that it follows, then, that the church is expected to treat as given that it is guilty of harassment or retaliation.
    Greta Christina: “Given that it’s already been legally determined that Linklater was fired as retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment …”
    But again, that assumes that the church is forced to take the legal determination as a given in addition to the basic facts of the case, rather than argue that the legal determination does not follow legally from the facts on record.
    Greta Christina: “Do I think the churches in this case are deliberately and consciously declaring that these acts are a central, First Amendment- protected part of their religious practice? No.”
    Yet you write as if they are deliberately and consciously declaring that sexual harassment is part of their doctrine. You write, “This is what they’re saying in public, the position they’re officially and openly painting themselves with.” Not that what they are openly saying in public has this unconscious implication that sexual harassment is somehow part of their doctrine, but that they are openly, officially, outright saying that sexual harassment is part of their doctrine.

  39. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: J. J. Ramsey | January 18, 2010 at 05:17 PM
    What they are doing is actually a case of outright saying the equivelant to “Holding us liable for sexual harrassment and firing the victim in retaliation for her complaining about it, violates our first ammendment right to freedom of religion.”
    They have raised it as being a question of how far the first ammendment protection extends – that is true – but the overall implications are if anything larger than the original post posited.
    It would effectively mean that religious institutions would be immune to a fairly wide range of otherwise religion neutral civil laws.

  40. says

    Given that it’s already been legally determined that Linklater was fired as retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, how else are we supposed to interpret the church’s case, except as a defense of the idea that their religious practice includes sexual harassment and retaliation against people who complain about it?
    I can think of another possibility, though it’s no more creditable to the church than the one you suggest:
    The church is arguing that it wishes to employ believers only (fair enough, you have the right to hire people you consider suitable to the position). It’s also arguing that a real believer would place the good name of the church ahead of her own rights and wellbeing. Ms Linklater, by demanding public restitution for sexual harassment, demonstrated that she considers her own rights more important than the church’s reputation, therefore she is not enough of a believer to suit the role and could be fired for inadequate faith.
    By that logic, the key policy is a demand for absolute loyalty from followers. The policy isn’t ‘Sexual harassment yay!’, it’s ‘With us or against us.’ And as religion is all about attitudes and beliefs, a lawyer might make a case for that.
    It wouldn’t be a case that would make the church look attractive to potential converts or free-thinking members, but it’s possibly slightly less silly than ‘Sexual harassment is part of our religion.’ No more impressive, but less silly.
    (I can think of a very simple religious counter-argument: the church is meant to represent truth and integrity; by speaking the truth and demanding integrity Ms Linklater was in fact serving it better than the people who harassed and fired her. But there you go.)

  41. says

    Yet you write as if they are deliberately and consciously declaring that sexual harassment is part of their doctrine. You write, “This is what they’re saying in public, the position they’re officially and openly painting themselves with.” Not that what they are openly saying in public has this unconscious implication that sexual harassment is somehow part of their doctrine, but that they are openly, officially, outright saying that sexual harassment is part of their doctrine

    J.J.: You may have overlooked the part where I said, “They apparently have no idea what a massive P.R. disaster this defense could be. Their rationalization is so deeply rooted, they seem to have no idea what it might look like to other people…”
    I’m not saying they’re officially changing their church doctrine. Or that this is the secret church doctrine they’ve had all along, and they’re finally going public about it. I’m saying that this is de facto what they’re doing. This is the effect of what they’re doing. This is what they are saying… even though their rationalizations are so deeply rooted they don’t realize they’re saying it, or what it sounds like to other people.

  42. J. J. Ramsey says

    Greta Christina: “You may have overlooked the part where I said, ‘They apparently have no idea what a massive P.R. disaster this defense could be. Their rationalization is so deeply rooted, they seem to have no idea what it might look like to other people…'”
    No, I didn’t. There is nothing in there to indicate that they don’t realize that they are supposedly saying that sexual harassment is part of their doctrine, or that they are saying so unconsciously, only that they don’t realize that saying so looks bad.
    Greta Christina: “I’m saying that this is de facto what they’re doing.”
    But you write “This is what … they’re officially and openly painting themselves with,” emphasis on “official.” Now you are saying that it is “de facto,” but that turn of phrase is used in contrast with “official.”

  43. says

    Sigh. I give up, J.J. You seem determined to put words in my mouth and ideas in my head that I didn’t intend and don’t adhere to. This argument has clearly become a waste of time, and I am done with it.

  44. J. J. Ramsey says

    Look, if you wanted to say, “I’m saying that this is de facto what they’re doing. This is the effect of what they’re doing,” then you simply picked a poor way of saying it. Repeatedly saying things to the effect of “This is what they are saying outright” is not the way to do it.

  45. ckitching says

    I wonder if some of this is more that these people have just starting to believe their own lies. They teach their “flock” that studying the bible is the path to morality, so it follows that the pastor who has studied the bible for most of his life should be one of the most moral people you’ll ever meet. Combine that with the corrupting influence of power, and you’ve practically got a recipe for this kind of nonsense.
    This phenomenon, of course, results in things becoming positively surreal. You get conservative talking heads, who would be the first to say to people to take responsibility for their own actions, defending these people by deflecting blame to the “sinfulness” of society at large, public acceptance of homosexuality, etc.
    If these people have convinced themselves that they’re are above man-made laws (because they are the defenders of “God’s Law”), then this defence may not be as odd as it appears.

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