Carrying religious freedom a step too far

Supply Room Supervisor Harold Shea, a devout Catholic, was incensed by the Free Choice Movement and its stand on abortion.
By Raymond Dreyfack February 1, 1999

Supply Room Supervisor Harold Shea, a devout Catholic, was incensed by the Free Choice Movement and its stand on abortion. In protest he hung a large poster in the supply room containing a color photograph of a bloody fetus with the words MURDER ONE scrawled across it. Employee drawing tools or materials could not avoid exposure to the poster.

Several workers, including some Right-To-Lifers, as well as Free Choice advocates, considered the display offensive. When Shea was asked by a number of employees to remove the poster, he refused.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in this country,” he maintained.

Shea’s stand became a heated and disruptive issue in the maintenance department resulting in work delays and stalled projects. A committee of employees turned to Maintenance Department Supervisor George Griffith for help.

Griffith attempted to reason with Shea who replied that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he gave in to the “baby killers.”

Griffith did his best to be fair. “It’s true you’re entitled to your religious convictions,” he said. “But as a management employee, it’s my responsibility to keep the department productive. If you insist on displaying the poster, my suggestion is that you hang it on your locker door where it won’t be publicly exposed. In any case you’ll have to remove it from the supply room.”

Shea refused and threatened to sue on the grounds that Griffith’s insistence was a violation of his religious freedom.

Question: Should Shea be permitted to display the poster in the supply room despite its offensiveness to others?

Parker’s verdict: When the situation was spelled out to Plant Engineer Frank Parker, his decision was swift and uncompromising. “Religious freedom is a two-way street. Shea may be entitled to his personal beliefs, but he has no right to impose those beliefs on others. One or the other has to go: Either the poster, or Shea.”

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