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I work for the Roman Catholic church in the USA. I am an administrative assistant with only very rare dealings with the public. When I was hired I was told by a Human Resources representative that if I was seen "holding signs" (direct quote) advocating for any of three political issues my employment "will end." The issues were LGBT marriage, reproductive rights, and euthanasia.

The implication was that it did not matter whether I was on or off the job, or whether I was representing my workplace; if I held signs advocating for any of those things even on my own time and with no direct ties to the organization or church, my employment would or could be terminated.

Is this legal?

I can understand forbidding it when "on the clock" or if I was wearing a shirt that says "I work for the Catholic Church," but controlling my own personal freedom of speech seems very illegal or at least strong grounds for wrongful termination.

Any help would be great. Thank you.

Related: Can an employer require employees be Christian? From this I know that religious employers are exempt from discrimination laws, but I'm not sure how it applies to my situation.

  • In what country? – Nate Eldredge Sep 7 '18 at 1:23
  • @NateEldredge Sorry! USA. Will it matter what state? – InverseTelecine Sep 7 '18 at 1:26
  • It might, some states have additional protections. – Nate Eldredge Sep 7 '18 at 1:28
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The First Amendment forbids the government from abridging your freedom of speech. There is no (federal) law against your private employer doing so.

A good summary is https://www.americanbar.org/publications/insights_on_law_andsociety/15/winter-2015/chill-around-the-water-cooler.html

  • Oh. Darn. :( But thank you so much for your help Nate! – InverseTelecine Sep 7 '18 at 1:32
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It probably illegal ... maybe.

It depends on where you are and what law applies - to take, for example, Victoria, Australia.

  1. Discrimination is legal unless it is under a protected class.
  2. Political belief and activity is a protected class under both Federal and Victorian legislation.
  3. However, there are exemptions for religious bodies:

Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion or is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of people who follow the religion.

The term ‘reasonably necessary’ requires an objective assessment of whether the discrimination is necessary.

First, LGBT marriage falls under all of "sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status" so it is something that can be discriminated against by a religious body where "reasonably necessary".

However, "reproductive rights, and euthanasia" are not within any of the exemptions granted - that is, they are purely political issues so the organisation is on shaky ground with these.

This assumes that you are a lay employee - if you are actually a member of the clergy then they have wider powers to discriminate.

  • Thanks for the info. I'm in the USA. It sounds like it would be legal to fire me both in the USA and in Australia. Not the answer I was looking for, but I really appreciate your help. Thank you. – InverseTelecine Sep 7 '18 at 1:42
  • As I read it, in Australia the OP could be fired if s/he was in an homosexual marriage or relationship. But if the OP were an heterosexual person holding a sign in favor of same-sex marriage (which is the example provided), that would not be the OP's "sexual orientation/lawful sexual/activity/marital status/gender status"; it would be just "political activity". – SJuan76 Sep 7 '18 at 7:39
  • @SJuan76 Yes - assuming that the homosexuality was against the tenants of the religion – Dale M Sep 10 '18 at 4:24
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This is the United States, in which employment is "at-will" in most states. This means that either side can terminate the employer-employee relationship for almost any or no reason. There are specific reasons that an employer may not dismiss an employee, and some of these vary by state. Typically, these do not include political positions or activity. Your state government is likely to have a list of protected classes on line somewhere, and you can consult those.

Legally, this is the same sort of thing as being fired for participating in a neo-Nazi rally. If you'd be protected for advocating same-sex marriage, they'd be protected for advocating white supremacy.

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