The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Hewlett-Packard’s right to fire an employee who insisted on posting anti-gay bible verses on his office cubicle in response to the company having posters encouraging respect for diversity in the office building he worked in. The diversity campaign, as the Chronicle reports, was the sort of empty sloganeering that anyone in the corporate world is used to seeing:
The conflict started in 2000 after the company began implementing a diversity policy that was developed at staff meetings and put up workplace posters showing different employees, with labels such as “black,” “blonde,” “old,” “gay” and “Hispanic,” alongside the slogan “Diversity is our strength.”
Seems like pretty inoccuous stuff, doesn’t it? Not to Richard Peterson. He was incensed by this and felt the need to respond. When he wrote a letter to the local paper blasting the diversity campaign as a “platform to promote the homosexual agenda”, nothing happened to him (as well it shouldn’t – he is free to express his opinions in the newspaper). When he put a bumper sticker on his car that said, “Sodomy is not a family value” and parked it in the parking lot, his bosses did nothing (again, rightly so). But Mr. Peterson was bound and determined, apparently, to tilt at this windmill, and he subsequently put up three placards over his office cubicle with bible verses on them condemning homosexuality, including the famous passage from Leviticus urging that homosexuals be put to death. The office manager removed the signs, Peteron put them back up and thus began the saga. They tried to negotiate a compromise with him, but he refused, saying that if they were going to put up their diversity posters, he was going to put up his signs condeming gays to die. They placed him on leave with pay to reconsider his position, but when he came back he put the signs back up. At that point they fired him. An Idaho court dismissed his suit claiming religious discrimination and now the 9th Circuit has upheld that decision. I agree with the decision.
The claim of religious discrimination is absurd. No one is telling Richard Peterson he can’t believe whatever he wishes. No one is telling him that he can’t express those beliefs on his car with a bumper sticker, in letters to the editor, in church, to others privately, etc. But this was his place of work, and part of the requirements of a place of work is that you show a modicum of respect for others and try to maintain a peaceful rapport with your fellow employees. Putting up signs condemning at least a portion of your co-workers to death is self-evidently not playing well with others. The company has every right to disallow that sort of office disruption. I somehow doubt that Mr. Peterson would have considered it religious discrimination if the company had fired, say, a Muslim, for refusing to take down signs on their cubicle saying, “Christians suck and they should all die” or posting a sura from the Quran to the effect that infidels will go to hell.
I’m curious to hear what the Jay Sekulow and his fellow travelers have to say about this. I suspect they will claim this as an example of anti-Christian bias in America. But the message, it seems to me, is fairly simple. You have every right to BE an ass, Mr. Peterson. But that doesn’t mean Hewlett-Packard has to let you be one in their office.
Follow-up: David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting take on this case.