If Dr. Eric Walsh loses his position as the city's public health department director because of his beliefs, it will set a precedent to rewrite job applications and change hiring standards for city officials, for anyone seeking management jobs and any position of influence, and possibly for anyone seeking a job.
Here's how a new question would be posed on job applications or asked by search committees: "Have you at any time in your professional career or personal life said anything in a public arena or private setting that is considered offensive to …?" followed by a listing of dozens of groups and issues – or just a few groups and issues that are supported by the dominant culture.
Deciding if people should or should not work in a position based on their deeply held beliefs is discrimination and yet that is a clear trend in the workplace. I wrote a separate article on workplace tolerance and the link is at the end of this article.
This subjective treatment of talented people brings public discourse to a new low and continues the chilling trend of removing disagreeable beliefs from the public—and private—arenas.
Brendan Eich got bounced from Mozilla, a company he co-founded. The husband-and-wife owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon ended up shutting down and a wedding photographer in New Mexico discovered what it was like to be taken to court over her refusal to photograph a same-sex wedding. It's not like these people were homophobic. They had gays and lesbians as employees and customers and there were no complaints leveled over their service. They shared beliefs.
Remember the activist outcry in 2012 when Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman? He has since said he still believes it’s wrong but will not say anything and just sell chicken.
His actions on how he treats employees wasn't under protest. His expressed privately held beliefs caused an uproar and even prompted Boston's mayor to say he wouldn't let Chick-fil-A operate in his city.
Overview – What Happened
Dr. Walsh had the misfortune of being the second speaker invited to give the commencement address at Pasadena City College. The first invited speaker, Dustin Lance Black, an Academy-award winning LGBT filmmaker, had his invitation rescinded and when Dr. Walsh was named as the replacement a 2006 video of Dr. Walsh was uncovered of him giving a sermon at a church in Upland.
He made statements that seem foolish and downright offensive to many such as referring to Pope John Paul as the anti-Christ, spoke out against homosexuals, and he touched on a number of topics that can be called offensive.
This happened in 2006 in his private capacity as an associate pastor. Was it a crime what he said? Has it impaired his ability to carry out his work in the city's health department?
In an editorial, the Frank Girardot of the Pasadena Star News implied that Dr. Walsh is a small-minded bigot and says his beliefs should disqualify him for his position and states that his beliefs impair his ability to carry out his duties.
Who determines the offensive remarks and who determines if they undermine an ability to carry out a position? Is what appears to be the dominant public opinion the judge and jury? If so, public opinion has been known to shift and perhaps that's why there's such a fight to limit and eliminate practices based on private beliefs.
Does the mob rule?
Support from All Saints Church, Pasadena--until now
In a YouTube video, the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, gives a warm introduction to Dr. Walsh who spoke on racism hurting the health of everyone.
The title is "Violence and Racism Makes Us All Sick" published June 18, 2012.
Since All Saints would take issue with Dr. Walsh on a number of topics, the Rev. Bacon has apparently changed his mind and refers to Dr. Walsh's sermons as "hate speech" in the Monday, May 5, 2014 Pasadena Star News and says Dr. Walsh isn't fit for his position.
Rev. Bacon says the "issue has to be impact."
Oh? Who measures impact? That's certainly a subjective standard.
Never mind that the doctor opened the city's first dental clinic that serves patients with HIV.
In another YouTube video taped at All Saints, Dr. Walsh is included on a panel with Dr. Mayer Hatthout (who I interviewed about 20 years ago) of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries.
There was no outcry after that appearance.
The Fight Against Personal Beliefs
My concern is how beliefs will be used against any one in any job situation.
What if a city administrator, a high-profile company executive, or even a salesperson, is chatting in a crowded hallway at some conference and is heard saying something like, "I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman?"
We're moving to a time when a statement like that could be punished and their belief could be seen as inflammatory. The California State Senate SB1306 will remove from the state Family Code language that marriage must be "between a man and a woman."
It would substitute gender-neutral language so expressing your beliefs could make you a lawbreaker. Scary.
Or two employees are on a lunch break and one says something that the other one takes as offensive. There are plenty of offensive topics to select like saying, "Merry Christmas." Inflammatory, right?
I could see the offended employee going to human resources and the other unsuspecting individual being punished in some fashion.
How About Dialogue?
If we disagree with what someone says in their private capacity, even though it may be in a public forum, why not talk with them about it? Why not express our concern and have a dialogue rather than shut them down and force them from a position of influence—especially if what they have to say is something with which we disagree?
Comedian Rob Schnieder recently said on a radio interview in Philadelphia that we are slipping toward facism. I agree. It's shrouded in a posture of justice and social concern and tolerance.
What's scary is this is so subjective.
Maybe Tolerant People aren't So Tolerant
I was serving on a planning committee for a community event and we were deciding types of activities when a woman said, "Let's play pin the tail on the Republican." No one said anything. Insert a different group name for "Republican" and imagine the outcry.
Americans were a people of "live and let live."
Not anymore. We're becoming a society of, "if you say something that I consider inflammatory and my opinion is considered the popular one then I can make your life a living hell."
It's disturbing to me that this has led to good people being kicked out of positions they deserve and the harassment of small business owners.
Maybe we're discovering that those who pride themselves on diversity and tolerance have lost the ability to have a constructive dialogue.