Rasean Johnson claims that his supervisor during his time working in San Diego’s Archives and Records Management attempted to force her religious beliefs on him. The lawsuit went to trial and a verdict was reached in May requiring the city to pay Johnson $300K. This week, San Diego’s NBC affiliate was able to obtain the court documents.
In the documents, Johnson claimed that then-Deputy Director Sheila Beale forced her religious beliefs on her subordinates. The first incident, according to the court documents, took place in 2008 as the State of California was gearing up to vote on infamous Prop. 8, which sought to outlaw same-sex marriage. Johnson accused Beale of saying that he “was not a child of God” because he admitted to being okay with people marrying whomever they want. The lawsuit also claimed that Beale led prayer meetings while at work and encouraged her staff to attend church.
In 2015, Johnson filed a formal complaint with the city. Although they agreed with Johnson’s complaint, the city transferred him to another department. That action is what precipitated the lawsuit, since Johnson believed that he was punished. The jury agreed.
BJC, an organization that claims to be dedicated to preserving religious freedom, has waded into the fray and voiced its opinion. Known for opposing Trump’s travel bans because BJC believes the bans are designed to harm a specific religious group, it’s no surprise that the organization believes that Johnson deserves the $300K.
BJC begins its article about the lawsuit by insisting that “in the year 2019, that supervisors should not push their religious beliefs on subordinates in the workplace.” They conclude their hit piece on Sheila Beale with the loaded words:
Workplace religious harassment is bad for both the workplace and for religion, which is done no favors by coercion, whether subtle or not-so-subtle. It’s also against the law. It’s long past time for employers to get the message.
The issue, I think, comes down to how the word “push” in “supervisors should not push their religious beliefs on subordinates” is defined. Admittedly, I wasn’t there; I did not hear how Beale interacted with her subordinates. But there is a marked difference between a boss telling employees that she believes that they should go to church and punishing employees for not attending church.
Johnson was not discriminated against because his supervisor shared her belief that Christians don’t support same-sex marriage with him. If that is religious harassment, then the reverse is true, too. LGBTQ activists are not allowed to criticize Christian co-workers for opposing same-sex marriage. In a similar vein, this ruling also means that atheists are not allowed to express that they believe their Christian co-workers are wasting their time by going to church.
Religious freedom can’t mean a ban on proselytizing. It also can’t mean being shielded from your co-workers’ or neighbors’ expressions of faith. Otherwise, it’s not religious freedom. It would be the government promoting secularism.
Johnson should not have filed a formal complaint charging Beale with religious harassment. And the taxpayers of San Diego should not have to fork over $300K because Johnson’s too sensitive to be able to handle someone telling him he should go to church.