A recent ruling by the highest court in The Evergreen State is being viewed as an important reminder of First Amendment principles.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (Jan. 25) in favor of a former Spokane fire captain who was fired for refusing to self-censor his religious expression (see earlier OneNewsNow story). The court held that the Spokane Valley Fire Department committed unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when it admonished and ultimately terminated Jonathan Sprague.
At issue were the department's e-mail and electronic bulletin board systems – forums that had been used by other employees to seek babysitting and sell concert tickets, but that Sprague's supervisors had told him not to use to announce religious meetings. The department had also shared newsletters by e-mail dealing with social topics like substance abuse and conflicts with children, but Sprague's attempts to share biblical perspectives on the same topics got him fired.
"This is a terrific victory for Captain Sprague and an important reminder of First Amendment principles," says attorney Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute, whose organization was asked to participate in the case as amicus and filed a friend-of-the-court brief. "No employee should be terminated for speaking on otherwise-permissible topics at work just because he has a religious perspective."
According to Dacus, that is why Sprague was fired. "[It wasn't] because he didn't do a good job, but simply because he didn't keep his faith to himself," Dacus elaborates, adding that that's exactly why the court's decision is so important.
"It sends a signal to Christians working for government agencies all across America that if they are fired or silenced simply because of a Christian biblical expression, that that's likely going to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment."
Dacus adds that his group's case load reveals a "growing tension [and] hostility" toward individuals with a Christian biblical worldview – and a desire to silence that worldview.
PJI was assisted in the case by Seattle affiliate attorney Conrad Reynoldson of Washington Civil & Disability Advocate. Sprague is represented by Albrecht Law in Spokane.