Ryan Coleman, 34, filed an $800,000 lawsuit last week against Dahled Up Construction, a company based in Albany, an hour south of Portland.
According to the complaint, he was hired as a painter in October 2017 and discovered on the job that he was required to attend Christian Bible study as part of his employment.
Coleman, who is half-Native American (Cherokee and Blackfoot), wasn’t comfortable with those terms, his attorney, Corinne Schram, told NPR. “He says his church is a sweat lodge, his bible is a drum, and that’s his form of worship to the creator,” Schram said.
According to the document, Coleman expressed his discomfort with attending the Bible study meetings and said the requirement was illegal, but business owner Joel Dahl insisted that he go anyway.
And Coleman, who has a felony conviction in his past, attended the sessions for a few months, “believing he had no other choice,” the lawsuit states.
He finally quit attending, and was then fired. More:
The Bible study took place once a week for about an hour in the afternoon. The meetings were meant to help employees, many of whom were felons and people recovering from addiction, Hickam said.
“It was arranged through a pastor to provide some appropriate motivation for them to stay the course. To maintain their recovery,” Hickam said.
Coleman served a prison sentence for child neglect and for selling methamphetamine, Schram said. But she told NPR her client had turned his life around and was recently granted full custody of his two sons, ages 10 and 14.
Dahl, the construction company’s owner, told The Oregonian that because of his own history with drugs and alcohol, he is a second-chance employer who hires felons and recovering addicts.
I can understand what Dahl was trying to accomplish here, and I don’t think that he was necessarily a bad guy. But this really is unacceptable. How would Christians feel if we were told to attend pagan worship as a condition of our employment? If church was an integral part of Coleman’s job, that would be one thing. But he was not working for a church or a ministry; he was a painter for a construction company.
As a Christian, I hope Coleman prevails in this lawsuit. First and foremost, he deserves to win on the merits.
Second, from a practical point of view, if Ryan loses, think about how dangerous things become for Christians (and others). A non-religious private company that has the right to compel you to attend religious meetings as a condition of your employment also has the right to forbid you from attending religious meetings as a condition of your employment. “John, this is Sandra from HR. Listen, I’m sorry to tell you this, but it has been brought to our attention that you attend a homophobic church on Sunday. We at the company feel that this is not consistent with our mission as a tolerant, inclusive workplace. We’re going to have to ask you to change churches, or we’ll have to let you go to pursue other opportunities.”
UPDATE: This too:
Religious liberty for me but not for thee. It’s just not clear to me how the residents of Farmersville, TX can claim to be patriotic Americans while denying Muslim citizens the religious freedom to bury their dead in a Muslim cemetery. https://t.co/AEK0xcznzE
— Francis J. Beckwith (@fbeckwith) August 31, 2018