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Fired for My Christian Beliefs

by "Dorothy Griffin"*

In 2005, after 16 years in elementary education, I decided to go to graduate school in counseling. I found an excellent, Christian counseling program with Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA, and received a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling. Through the referral of a long-time friend, I was hired to work with a mental healthcare provider in another state. I became a case manager for the Community Support Program and supervised 10-12 professional and paraprofessional case workers. All our clients had a mental health diagnosis (such as: severe depression, paranoia, suicidal, schizophrenia or bi-polar) and were receiving disability benefits, but were able to live in the community with supervision. Due to their diagnosis and disability, our program was funded by state and federal Medicare funds.

Since I was already an experienced Christian counseling minister, during my interview I knew to ask if I would be allowed to pray with clients. The company president and owner, a professed Christian herself and member of a prominent Presbyterian church, assured me that if the client was already a Christian and requested prayer, I was certainly allowed to use that as a therapy method. However, I was not allowed to try to convert clients or put pressure on them to become Christians. Now that I understood the stipulations, I agreed to take the position. After all, this is why I went to graduate school and received the MA so I would be better able to serve people with truly deep psychological issues and see Jesus Christ deliver them from their damaged emotions and dysfunctional core identities.

Shortly after I was employed, I learned that my immediate supervisor was a lesbian. I was told by my friend, who was an LPC, that I'd better be careful how I talked around her and not express my Christian viewpoints on homosexuality. So I kept my biblical perspectives to myself and made sure I treated her with utmost respect and kindness. There were so many occasions I wanted to share Christ with her or express my viewpoints, but I kept silent so I would not offend her. She was an LPC trained in the laws against discrimination and people's civil liberties. And I certainly did not want to get her feathers ruffled against me as a Christian.

After I had been employed about six months, my supervisor called me in to talk about a complaint from one of our clients. This young man complained that he did not want me to pray with him and he did not want to become a Christian. Well, that was odd sounding to me, because knowing the rules, I had never offered to pray with him nor tried to evangelize him in any way. Sometimes, when we were together, he asked me questions about the Bible or God, but I never tried to lead him to Christ -- just give him the biblical facts. The problem was he was paranoid over the possibility I might try (rather his demons were paranoid and controlling his thoughts and behavior). His girlfriend who was also a client in the program was a Christian and we prayed together for his salvation. She was concerned he might try to commit suicide again and not survive the next time.

The lesbian supervisor cautioned me about talking to him about the Bible or Jesus Christ. I was forbidden to go see him any more or call him on the phone, even though I was his case manager. I had to assign a case worker to visit him weekly and bring back her reports. Did she really need to take such extreme measures to protect him from me?

In order to have complete disclosure, I need to say I experienced another complaint by the owner of a nursing home. Another of our clients diagnosed with schizophrenia was living there among all the elderly people and was extremely unhappy. He kept leaving the facility and walking by himself into town, even across to the other side of the county. The nurses got to where they stopped reporting his absence to the police unless he failed to come back by breakfast. So I undertook to try to get him relocated to another men's home in the area. When the owner found out I was going to do that, he called the office and complained he would sue the agency if they moved him. We all understood where he was coming from. He did not want to lose our client's disability payments upon which he was so dependent. This nursing home had the worse reputation in the county and no one understood how he got put in there in the first place.

So the office forbid me to proceed with any other arrangements for his welfare and safety. If someone threatens to sue a mental healthcare agency, they jump somersaults backwards to placate the clients before they make a report to Medicare who funds their programs. If a client complains to Medicare, there is an extensive investigation that costs the company a lot of lost time and money.

Several months later, I was called by HR to come into the office at 5:00 pm to meet with the director and her assistant. As soon as I arrived, she informed me l “was no longer employed with their company for failure to conform to their requirement not to pray with clients.” I had been given one warning and thought everything was settled. There was no more mention of the issue until this day. I was not allowed to talk with the president about what had happened. And neither were they interested in hearing my viewpoint on the situation. It was settled and I did not have any recourse in the matter.

Then I was given three minutes to write a letter saying that I wished to resign on my own accord for personal reasons. I was not allowed to consult anyone to help me make the right decision. I was reminded that our state is an “at will” state and they did not have to tell me why I was being fired or give me any advance notice. As a matter of fact, I was in and out of their office in 30 minutes and my supervisor was waiting in the hall with a cart to clean out my office and pack my car.

I was not allowed to see my personnel file or know what my supervisor had written about me in her monthly reports. I was coerced into signing a non-disclosure agreement so I would not talk to anyone else in the office or outside it about what happened in that meeting. If I signed the agreement, they would tell any future employers who called that I had quit for personal reasons. If I refused to sign the agreement, they would “blacklist my name” with all other companies who called for a reference.

Needless to say, I was totally blindsided by this event and devastated over it. I was intimidated, backed into a corner and forced to write a letter that was not true-- if I ever wanted to work in that county again. I was literally in tears in the meeting, in a state of shock over how I was being treated by these ladies who were my friends just the day before. They had done this before to others in the office, but I didn't dream it would happen to me! They had it down to a science, as the saying goes. Employees would be there one day and gone the next and no one knew why.

It took me months to get over the anger and resentment of being unfairly treated and fired. I felt like such a failure and rejected by others I had respected. Because I gave in and wrote the letter of resignation, I could not collect unemployment benefits either. The HR department sure knew how to cover their assets on all levels. Without any notice, I was without a job and had no income. My husband and I called our lawyer to explain the situation and asked for her help. She made reference to the fact that our state was an “at will” state and it was perfectly legal for a company to fire people in that manner. There wasn't anything she could do to help and it was useless to try to take them to court.

To take advantage of this new job, we re-located to a new town and had to purchase another house. Thank God for His wisdom in the selection of a second home. The small home we purchased had a low enough mortgage we could afford it even if I was unemployed. Our home in the previous city was leased out so we had a little income from it. Not long after that I was able to start collecting reduced social security payments.

The Scripture promises “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Later on, part of my recovery came when I joyfully realized that the $17,000 it cost us to get the MA with Regent University was recuperated during this seven months of employment with this agency. The enemy tried to steal our finances and produce failure, but God was watching out for us. Once again we learned the lesson that if we trust in the Lord with all our heart, lean not to our own understanding and if we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He shall direct our path. (Prov. 3:5-6).

*"Dorothy Griffin” is a pseudonym for this brave Christian woman. For her protection, a few details have been slightly altered.