THE EROSION OF AMERICAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
When the editor ordered me to sign a statement relinquishing my rights to write about or discuss abortion, even one-on-one, even in church -- or be subject to dismissal -- I faced a choice I never thought I'd have to make.
or Your Beliefs:
What if you really had to choose?
I never imagined that in America, and especially in an industry that champions "free speech," an employer could fire someone simply for refusing to relinquish her constitutional rights.
My pro-life beliefs never interfered with my job, at The Milwaukee Journal (now Journal Sentinel) or elsewhere. I never discussed abortion on company time. As newsroom secretary, I had no influence over newscopy. I typed the weather page, posted obituaries, and occasionally took dictation from reporters on the field.
Diane Dew greeting protesters outraged by newspaper's actions
So when the managing editor called me into his office one day, challenged my beliefs and demanded I sign a statement promising never to write about or discuss the issue of abortion, even one-on-one, even in church -- I was stunned. Since I had some background in constitutional law, as a legal secretary for a pro-life firm, I knew my rights under the first amendment included freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. I was amazed the newspaper was so bold as to even put it in writing exactly why I would be dismissed, if I declined to sign.
Had any other employee ever been asked to sign such a statement, I asked? No, he replied. This agreement was being drawn up just for me.
A reporter covering a downtown clinic protest had noticed me among hundreds of others peacefully carrying a sign: "It grows, it moves, it breathes; it has fingerprints, a separate blood type, a heartbeat. It's a BABY!"
"This is tissue," the back of the sign said, with a small Kleenex box stapled at the top. " This is a baby," it said below, with a picture of an unborn child.
Sometimes I pushed a stroller full of broken baby doll parts covered with red paint.
Word of my position on the issue apparently disturbed editors of the newspaper, which was a regular donor to Planned Parenthood. (In addition to The Journal Company itself, several editors and a reporter who regularly covered abortion protests and wrote feature stories on the issue, also were found to be donors to the largest abortion provider in the world -- none of whom lost their jobs or were even threatened with dismissal.)
Ironically, the newspaper's excuse for firing me was that the paper might "appear" to be biased! (Biased in the opposite direction, I guess.)
However, I had never been presented a copy of the "Employee Handbook" to which they referred -- for several reasons. First of all, as the Handbook itself states, these rules applied only to editors and reporters, who have influence over the news. Secondly, the Handbook was never adopted by the Newspaper Guild as valid. Why hadn't I been informed of such a rule at my hire? I asked. I checked with the personnel department, and no Handbook was a part of the package presented to new employees, even in the editorial department, I was told. It took several employees a couple hours to dig up a copy from an old storage room, at the managing editor's request.
How could I break a rule I didn't know existed? I asked. And how can it apply to only me?
Certainly this smelled of discrimination, and I knew it. I asked God for wisdom on how to respond.
"I need some time to pray about this," I told my managing editor.
"Well, how long does it take for God to give you an answer?" he said, sarcastically.
"It depends," I answered.
"I'll pray that he does it really quick -- like by 8:30 tomorrow morning," he said.
At 8:10 the next morning, I sent a network note to my colleagues, saying good-bye: "Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. Folks have died for these rights. If I lose my job because I refuse to give up those rights, it's been nice working with you all. Really."
When called to the office, I explained I could not in good conscience sign a statement promising to be silent on an issue the Holy Spirit would probably prompt me at some time to speak out on. I could not sign, I said, but I did not choose to resign. I was promptly fired and escorted from the newsroom and out of the building.
Surely the editors thought this soft-spoken secretary would just go home and cry, and find another job. What I did was call a Christian pro-life attorney and file a complaint with the EEOC.
It didn't take long for the Christian media to pick up on the story, and soon the story was receiving widespread national coverage: National Public Radio, talk shows in Washington, DC, Dallas, etc. Even liberals concerned about free speech were upset at the paper for violating my freedom speech, and freedom of association. Even the liberal newspaper union went to bat publicly on my behalf -- and as a part-time employee I wasn't even a member of the Newspaper Guild! My dismissal became an issue in major trade journals (Editor & Publisher, Presstime, etc.) and journalism classes. Even Newsweek interviewed me (though the story was bumped). In the Christian media, it was covered by Moody magazine, Christianity Today, nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, and many others. I was also on Focus on the Family, Marlin Maddoux, etc... Still, the Milwaukee Journal refused to report the story within its own pages, for weeks*, until challenged by conservative talk show host Mark Belling of WISN and others.
An attorney with the Rutherford Institute represented me and I settled out of court with the newspaper. The media's bias had been exposed; my point was made.
P.S. It's a scary thought, when the media can so monopolize a metropolitan area, that they can squelch a story, rendering it apparently nonexistent -- all the while the rest of the country is reading about and discussing the event. And they were afraid I would make them look biased! And they, the bastions of free speech.
* The Journal Company owned both the morning and evening papers, which have since merged to become the Journal Sentinel. It also owned a local TV station, and two radio stations, as well as other media outlets.
Some media that reported the above story
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Who Funds Planned Parenthood
Why should we care what they do with their
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
In other words, media dedicated enough to a cause to support it
financially probably also are biased toward that issue in their reporting.
© Copyright 1998 Diane S. Dew All Rights Reserved
Diane Dew o PO Box 340945 o Milw WI 53234
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