Albert A. Buonanno of Denver had worked at AT&T Broadband for two years. But in a 2001 reorganization, the company directed employees to sign a "certificate of understanding." The document said employees must "fully recognize, respect, and value the differences among all of us," including "sexual orientation."

Buonanno, who attends a Baptist General Conference church, told his supervisor in a letter that he wouldn't discriminate against or harass homosexuals. But he also said he couldn't sign the statement because it contradicted the Bible. Buonanno's supervisor fired him the next day.

The Rutherford Institute, a religious liberties organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia, is representing Buonanno, 47, and a handful of others. They all lost their jobs for refusing to condone employment policies they found biblically immoral.

The culture war over homosexuality in America has moved to a new front—the workplace. Christian observers say millions of employees are being commanded not just to tolerate homosexual behavior but also to respect and even promote it.

"There are certain things you can't say, or joke about, in the name of tolerance," Rutherford Institute founder John W. Whitehead told Christianity Today. "It's not so much the gay groups as much as the big corporations wanting to make sure they are above criticism."

Legal landscape

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest pro-homosexual political organization in the country, at least 300 of the companies in the Fortune 500 have included sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. Heterosexual employees who balk at such rules are punished, sometimes severely.

In October, the Rutherford Institute filed a federal suit against the Department of the Interior on behalf of Kenneth P. Gee Sr., a Bureau of Reclamation job training teacher in Nampa, Idaho. In 2000, Gee, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received a directive from his employer to "observe gay and lesbian pride." The e-mail contained a link to a website that said, "Morality is simply the attitude we adopt toward people we personally dislike."

In an e-mail to his supervisor, Gee responded that he believed homosexuality is sinful, and he didn't want to celebrate it. Three supervisors subsequently informed Gee that his inappropriate e-mail violated federal policies and embarrassed the Bureau of Reclamation. Gee said he later received a counseling memo about inappropriate use of a government computer. The memo warned him not to express disagreements in the workplace.

Article continues below

The Department of Interior is one of 38 federal departments and agencies to have adopted a sexual non-discrimination policy, according to the HRC.

Gee's suit seeks relief at the federal court in Idaho, and is based on the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). According to Rutherford attorneys, RFRA applies to all levels of government, local, state, and federal. The Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores in 1997 struck RFRA down at the federal level, arguing that RFRA was an unconstitutional expansion of power under the 14th Amendment, which only applies to the states.

Most federal courts since then have held that RFRA still applies to federal agencies, and hence requires those agencies whose actions substantially burden religious exercise to justify such restrictions by demonstrating that a compelling interest exists and that no less restrictive means are available to further that interest.

According to Gregory S. Baylor, director of the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom in Annandale, Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1977 Trans World Airlines vs. Hardison decision weakened the Title VII religious accommodation provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court ruled the airline couldn't be forced to give an employee Saturdays off for religious reasons because it created an "undue hardship" for the company.

However, Baylor noted that the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (S.893) was introduced in the Senate in April, with bipartisan support. He said the legislation would require employers to prove they would sustain significant expense regarding such hardship.

Few speak up

So far, there has been relatively little backlash among rank-and-file employees against the pro-gay agenda in corporations. "Gay activists are pressuring from within, and often they meet with barely any resistance, including from Christian groups at the corporation," said Peter LaBarbera, founder and president of the Washington-based Americans for Truth, a lobbying group opposed to the gay-rights agenda. "When you have a very loud and demanding gay employee group and not much opposition, the tendency is to cave in, and that's what's happened."

LaBarbera said the diversity and tolerance propaganda promoted by corporate human resource departments have intimidated and worn down many Christians. "Christians shouldn't feel guilty about taking a stand," LaBarbera said.

Article continues below

On the other hand, many Christians have no problems signing company statements because many such statements ask for no more than to refrain from discrimination or harassment of people of many categories.

Whitehead said Christians shouldn't discriminate in terms of religion, race, or sexual orientation, but neither should they be forced to deny their faith. "In the workplace you need to be fair to everybody," Whitehead said. "But Christians shouldn't sign something that is clearly contrary to the Bible. If you compromise your faith, you deny the Lord."

Those Christians who defend their rights sometimes win. The Rutherford Institute negotiated an out-of-court settlement for Denise Maynard, an AT&T Broadband worker in Florida fired for objecting to a pro-homosexual personal e-mail circulated companywide. Another settlement involved New Yorker Anne E. Coffey, terminated by Verizon after refusing to sign a company code condoning homosexual behavior.

"[Some] Christians are sticking to what they believe the Bible says about homosexuality," Whitehead said. "They don't want to be forced to agree with a handbook or a policy."

Whitehead believes Buonanno's suit, scheduled to go to trial in February, will be a test case.

"These cases are really important because certain people are being told they can't have free speech anymore," Whitehead said. "It's the most frightening thing I've seen in my 30 years of law practice."

Related Elsewhere:

The Rutherford Institute's web site has more information on the Buonanno case and similar suits.

The Associated Press covered Gee's suit.

For more stories, see Christianity Today's areas on Sexuality & Gender and Money & Business.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.