HOSTILITY ON THE RISE: Will You Be the Next Victim of Religious Workplace Discrimination?

February 19, 2015

What First Liberty Institute wants you and every business person (employees and employers) to know about faith in the workplace

Amidst growing hostility toward religion, more questions than ever before have arisen concerning what kind of religious expression is allowed in the workplace—and to what extent.

More and more Americans—just like you—are contacting First Liberty Institute and asking for help to know what their rights are in the workplace (click here to download our FREE “7 Things Every Business Person of Faith Should Know” resource). That’s why protecting religious liberty in the workplace is a major area of emphasis for First Liberty Institute, and why we’re taking legal action in our current cases to help defend the religious liberty rights of hard-working people, including:


Dr. Eric Walsh, a respected health official who was terminated for religious beliefs expressed in his church – Dr. Eric Walsh is a leading public health expert and lay minister. In 2014, the State of Georgia enthusiastically hired Dr. Walsh as a senior official in the State’s Department of Public Health (DPH). Radical activists attacked the State of Georgia for employing Dr. Walsh, due to his biblical views about marriage and human sexuality. State officials requested copies of sermons Dr. Walsh had preached at his local church and began an internal review of the sermon content. Incredibly, as email records demonstrate, immediately after senior government officials reviewed his sermons, the State of Georgia DPH terminated Dr. Walsh—doing so in a harsh voicemail in which officials laughed about his termination. We filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on behalf of Dr. Eric Walsh against the State of Georgia Department of Public Health for unlawfully terminating him based solely on his religious beliefs. EEOC has launched an investigation into the case. Read more.



Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn, a military chaplain who was punished by the Army over a lifesaving, anti-suicide message – Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn’s Brigade Commander called him away from his family on Thanksgiving Day. The Colonel questioned him regarding a suicide prevention presentation Lawhorn gave to an Army Ranger battalion. Chaplain Lawhorn’s message included his own personal testimony of how his Christian faith had helped him counter depression. But the Colonel deemed it too Christian in its approach, and the Colonel subsequently issued Lawhorn a “Letter of Concern” to be placed in the Chaplain’s file. First Liberty Institute sent a letter to the Colonel requesting a religious accommodation for Chaplain Lawhorn—so he may do his job and fulfill the mantra of the military chaplain to “bring God to soldiers, and soldiers to God.” We have also requested that the Letter of Concern be removed from Chaplain Lawhorn’s files, as it has the potential to prematurely end his stellar Army career (which includes earning the prestigious Army Ranger tab). Read more.

Craig James, a TV sports analyst who was terminated when his employer learned he had publicly expressed commonly-held religious beliefs concerning marriage prior to his employment during a political campaign – Fox Sports terminated sportscaster Craig James for expressing his religious beliefs regarding traditional marriage . . . over a year before his employment began.  While running for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Texas in 2012, James was asked during the campaign—as all political candidates usually are—about his views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. As a Christian, James expressed his deeply held religious beliefs and stated that he would not support same-sex unions. Over a year later, in August 2013, James began his employment and appeared on air. The very next day, Fox Sports terminated James. Fox Sports’ Senior VP for Public Relations said that they “just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here.” First Liberty Institute filed a charge of unlawful religious discrimination by Fox Sports with the Texas Workforce Commission. During our investigation, we revealed damaging contradictions and admissions by Fox Sports’ executives. The Texas Workforce Commission is now investigating James’ claims. Read more.

Bob Eschliman, an award-winning newspaper editor from Iowa who was fired for expressing his religious beliefs on his personal blog – Bob Eschliman worked in the newspaper industry since 1998 and has won more than 70 awards for writing or editing—seven of which were at his most recent job as Editor-in-Chief of Newton Daily News in Iowa.  Bob’s employer and the owner of Newton Daily News, Shaw Media, encouraged its employees to be active on their individual social media accounts, which is by definition a personal expression of speech. There are also other employees of Newton Daily News who operated private blogs and still retained their jobs with Shaw Media.  On April 28, 2014, Bob wrote a blog post in which he defended and explained his sincerely held theological beliefs regarding Scripture and the definition of marriage according to the Bible. Two days later, Bob was placed on indefinite paid leave, so that the company could investigate the blog post. Five days after that, Eschliman was fired without being given a reason for his termination and ordered to surrender his corporate effects and leave the building immediately. First Liberty Institute is aggressively pursuing legal action through the filing of an EEOC complaint against a media company for their clear violation of law. Read more.




Walt Tutka, a former substitute teacher who the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found was the victim of discrimination by a New Jersey school district – The Phillipsburg School District in Warren County, New Jersey fired substitute teacher Walt Tutka for handing a Bible to a student who requested it. While holding open the door for a student one day, Tutka commented to the student that “the first shall be last, but the last shall be first.” The curious student asked Tutka several times for the source of the quote, and eventually Tutka showed the student the quote in his pocket Bible and simply did what teachers are called to do: educate students. Then, upon the student’s request and after further questioning, Tutka generously gave the student his own Bible. In October 2012, the school district abruptly terminated Tutka’s employment for giving the student a Bible. First Liberty Institute filed a charge of discrimination on behalf of Tutka with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After a grueling two-year legal fight, in December 2014 Tutka received the decision he deserved in the EEOC’s Final Determination letter which states that Tutka was discriminated against by his former employer. The EEOC is now seeking to reach a conciliation agreement with the school district. The school district has indicated that it is considering appealing the EEOC’s decision. Read more.


These cases represent the growing hostility toward religious expression in the workplace. Make no mistake: these employers violated very specific laws that protect religious liberty in the workplace.  We expect to win.Yet in today’s hostile environment, offenses will continue unless people of faith educate themselves and others about their rights, and take a stand.

So what can you do?  First of all, you can empower yourself and know your rights as a business person of faith in the workplace.  Download First Liberty Institute’s easy-to-follow FREE resource:  “7 Things Every Business Person of Faith Should Know.” Read it and share it with your friends.

Then, commit to stand with First Liberty Institute—the largest organization dedicated solely to preserving religious liberty in America, including in our nation’s workplaces. We are leaders in the fight to protect and defend freedom of religion from increasing attacks, and we win over 90% of our cases.  But we need your help to continue seeking justice for clients like Dr. Eric Walsh, Chaplain Joe Lawhorn, Craig James, Bob Eschliman and Walt Tutka.

Please pray as we work to protect and restore the rights of these clients and others who are facing discrimination by their employers because of their religious expression. And please give financially to help fight for religious freedom. Because of First Liberty Institute’s volunteer attorney model, every $1 you give translates into approximately $6 of legal impact, and we are grateful for your support!

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KNOW YOUR ENEMIES:  The 5 Foes of Your Religious Liberty

About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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