A fight over rainbows and rights | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

A fight over rainbows and rights

A federal appeals court hears an Iowa worker’s case about religious expression

An aluminum coil at the Arconic manufacturing facility in Alcoa, Tennessee, U.S. Getty Images/Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

A fight over rainbows and rights

An Iowa metalworker argued before an appeals court last week that his employer fired him over his religious objection to LGBTQ ideology in the workplace.

Three years ago, Daniel Snyder received an email notifying him that his company, aluminum manufacturer Arconic in Davenport, Iowa, sought employee feedback through a survey. Snyder, then 62, responded and shared his objection to Arconic’s use of the rainbow flag to promote “Gay Pride Month.” He said that this use of the rainbow was an “abomination to God” as the rainbow “is not meant to be a sign for sexual gender.” Because of his Christian faith, Snyder believed the company’s use of the rainbow was sacrilegious.

Snyder mistakenly put these remarks in the wrong place. He left his remarks as a public comment on a company blog that contained similar language to the survey’s promotional emails. He thought he was leaving his remarks on an anonymous survey.

With his comment public, company officials discovered the remark and removed it the next day. Snyder was soon suspended and fired because Arconic said the comment violated the company’s “Diversity Policy” and constituted harassment.

Snyder then sued Arconic for religious discrimination. In 2023, a federal court ruled against the metalworker. The court said that because Snyder wasn’t “required” by his religion to make that remark, he wasn’t protected by the law.

Snyder appealed the ruling. Last week, he took his case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. While in court Tuesday, Thomas More Society attorney Michael McHale, who represents Snyder, argued that it doesn’t matter if Snyder was or wasn’t required to say the statement. Either way, his statement was still religious and should be protected. McHale said that Snyder’s speech falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects all aspects of religious observance, expression, and practice.

U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Kelly questioned McHale on Snyder’s use of the phrase “abomination to God.” Kelly said Arconic fired Snyder due to the “offensiveness” of this wording, according to the brief. McHale emphasized that this phrase is part of Snyder’s beliefs, so it should still be protected.

Judge Michael Melloy asked if religious protections give employees the “license to insult” fellow employees. “Many Christians believe that only Christians will be saved and that all Jews and Muslims and nonbelievers won’t be saved,” Melloy continued. “Can you go out on a public bulletin board and say that all Jews and Muslims in this company are going to hell?”

McHale said that Snyder is not trying to argue for the right to “offend fellow co-worker” but rather for protections of religious beliefs.

On the other side, Arconic attorney Mikkie Schiltz claimed that Snyder’s remark should receive no protection, as it wasn’t a part of his required religious conduct. He had no need to say it, she said.

Additionally, the statement was offensive and targeted others, she said. She contended that under Title VII employers need to protect employees from offensive remarks.

Judge Kelly interjected that “offensive” seems like a broad term because anyone can be offended by anything. Schiltz clarified that maybe “harassment” would be the better term to describe Snyder’s comment, adding that Snyder seemed to be asking for a free pass to make harassing statements on the basis of religion.

McHale gave his rebuttal and argued that in the very least, the court should let a jury decide if Snyder’s remarks targeted others.

The judges did not say when they would issue a ruling.

The judges asked the questions that Thomas More Society hoped they would, said Peter Breen, executive vice president at the legal organization. Their questions probed the basis for the lower court’s dismissal, he said.

The lower court failed to address key themes in its dismissal and instead came up with the idea that religious expression needs to be “required,” Breen said. However, this focus on “required” sidesteps the Supreme Court’s 2023 ruling in Groff v. Dejoy, he said. In that case, the court upped the burden of proof for employers to justify denying an employee’s rights to exercise their religious beliefs on the job. Justice Samuel Alito said that Title VII requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show how granting such a request would substantially increase the cost of doing business.

Under Groff, there isn’t a standard of whether employees are “required” to do religious actions or say religious remarks, Breen said.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued in support of Arconic’s diversity policy on Tuesday. The EEOC is supposed to enforce laws that make discrimination illegal in the workplace but, in Synder’s case, instead defended religious discrimination, Breen said. He called the EEOC’s arguments against Synder “disturbing,” saying it could affect more people than just Snyder.

“If we beat Arconic, a Fortune 500 company, and the EEOC in this case, that is a decision … that would reverberate across the country and we hope would help to protect people of faith,” Breen said. “If we lose, that sets a dangerous precedent, because that means companies have free rein to fire people of faith.”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...