The government enforces a separation of church and state, but what about a separation of church and employer?
Joel Dahl, who founded and runs Dahled Up Construction, requires all his workers to attend Christian Bible Study as a condition of continued employment.
Ryan Coleman, a convicted felon, said attending Bible study was not a condition of employment for the first month that he worked as a painter for Dahl. When it became mandatory, he attended for almost six months, afraid his felony conviction would prevent him from getting another job. When he finally said he wouldn’t attend the Bible study anymore, he was fired.
Coleman was disappointed, having just received a pay raise two weeks beforehand. He also loved his job, claiming he was excited to get up and go to work in the morning, and realizing how lucky he was to be one of the few people who could say that.
Coleman, who is half Native American, told Fox News that Christianity just wasn’t for him.
Coleman is now suing his former employer for $800,000 for firing him under what he claims to be illegal circumstances – $50,000 for lost wages and $750,000 for the misery, inconvenience, embarrassment, and mental stress of having been fired.
Kent Hickman, Coleman’s attorney, released a statement saying that, if an employer is not a religious organization, such as a church, it has no right requiring its workers to attend Bible study as a condition of employment.
Dahl, who is also a convicted felon, started his construction company as a way to help fellow convicts get back on their feet after having served their time in jail. He does not deny that he requires his employees to attend Bible study in order to keep their jobs, but he insists the practice is legal because he pays them for the time they spend in Bible study.
What Dahl doesn’t seem to realize is that denying someone a job based on their religious beliefs is illegal. No doubt, Dahl had the best of intentions when he instituted this at his company. Christianity may well have helped him get back on the right path, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for everyone. Requiring all employees to attend Bible study, regardless of their religious orientation, is a means of pressuring them into practicing Christianity (or at least paying lip service to the religion, as Coleman did for close to six months).
Coleman might feel more comfortable practicing a Native American religion, he might believe in another religion altogether, or he might be atheist or agnostic. Whichever it is, it shouldn’t bar him from working a job he likes and for which he is qualified enough to have earned a pay raise after half a year’s worth of work, especially since his status as a convicted felon will likely make it more difficult for him to obtain new employment. Hopefully, his months of success at Dahled Up Construction will be enough to help him move on and find a better job with a company that doesn’t discriminate against its workers.
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