Man would rather get fired than watch diversity video

 

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CHAMPAIGN — A Social Security Administration employee who believes he shouldn't have to watch a workplace diversity video about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, because it violates his religious beliefs, fears he may lose his job because of it.

David Hall, 42, of Tolono has worked for the federal agency for 14 years, based in the Champaign office as an area systems coordinator, an information technology position.

In late April, Hall said, employees nationwide received an email from the agency about a 17-minute LGBT diversity and inclusion training video that they were told to watch at their work stations. Employees were required to certify that they had seen the video.

Hall said he is a Christian — "not anti-anyone or anything," but "for God, for Jesus" — and believes the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

So, he didn't watch it.

His supervisor gave him direct orders to do so — first on June 2, then again on June 24. Again, Hall refused both times.

As a result, an official reprimand was placed in his file — the first he has ever received, he says — and he was suspended without pay for two days, Aug. 15-16.

Part of his problem, he said, is that viewing the video is mandatory, something he doesn't remember the agency doing with other training videos in the past. So, he asked his supervisors for a religious accommodation to abstain from the training, which was denied.

After his suspension, Hall returned to work on Aug. 17. He said his supervisor has explained he will receive further discipline, possibly a longer suspension without pay, if he does not complete the video. Hall said he eventually expects he will lose his job over his refusal to do so.

"I think this is an issue they are prepared to go to the mat with, but I'm not going to give up my faith or compromise my beliefs just to go along and get along. I don't believe God wants me to do that," Hall said.

Responding to questions from The News-Gazette on Wednesday, Doug Nguyen, communications director for the SSA's Chicago region, wrote in an emailed statement that "in support of an inclusive work environment, as well as exemplary customer service, the Social Security Administration recently announced a diversity and inclusion training on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community to our employees.

"This mandatory video training reminds our employees of their responsibility, as representatives of the agency, to provide the highest levels of service to our customers," Nguyen went on to say. "The training includes a brief session on tips for increasing cultural awareness in a diverse and inclusive environment. We are unable to comment on specific personnel matters."

Because of what he described as deeply held religious beliefs, Hall said he cannot bring himself to comply. He said he believes the Constitution grants him certain rights and religious freedoms, just as it grants certain rights to others.

Hall said he supports the rights of the LGBT community to support its position, too, and not asking those who work for the federal government to change their views or lose their jobs.

"I'm not judging the LGBT community ... But I believe tolerance is a two-way street," Hall said. "Unfortunately, I believe they're wrong. But neither of us should lose our jobs or livelihood for our beliefs.

"For me, I know I'm not a martyr or a bigot. I'm not asking for anyone's approval or forgiveness; I'm simply trying to live out my life, my faith and be obedient to the will of God."

Hall said he has prayed about this issue and talked it over with friends and family, including his wife and three kids. With a family to support, a mortgage, car payment and health insurance through his job, Hall said he is taking a risk making this stand.

And he said he doesn't anticipate his supervisors changing their course, eventually leading to him losing his job.

"This is something I want to fight and expose," Hall said, "to give other Christians the courage of their convictions. I can't tell you how many I've worked with that have told me, 'Dave, we agree with you 100 percent. I wish I had the courage to do that.' But they're scared. ... Their fears are being realized through me."

Hall said Jason Craddock, a private Chicago attorney, is advising him. Craddock also recently represented the owner of Ford County's Timber Creek Bed and Breakfast, who objected to hosting same-sex weddings for religious reasons.

Earlier this year, the B&B near Paxton that turned down a same-sex couple's request to hold a civil-union ceremony there in 2011 was ordered by an administrative law judge to pay $30,000 in damages to the couple and $50,000 to their attorneys and to stop violating the Illinois Human Rights Act by denying couples access to the facility based on their sexual orientation.

Craddock said he and Hall are still looking at options on how to proceed with the SSA. He said there are many previous cases involving Christians objecting to participating in activities they consider to be sinful, and they are persecuted in the workplace as a result.

"Unfortunately, it's happening more frequently as time goes on," Craddock said.