Award-Winning Journalist Fired Over Religious Beliefs
Updated: July 23, 2014
At Issue: Freedom From Workplace Religious Discrimination
Case Status: Ongoing
Eschliman v. Shaw Media, Inc. and Newton Daily News
The Big Picture
Bob Eschliman, a man who has received more than 70 awards for his work in journalism, was fired from his job as Editor-in-Chief of the Newton Daily News on May 5, 2014. His employer then wrote in an editorial that Eschliman had been fired for expressing his religious beliefs on his personal blog, and that “the public airing of [his beliefs] compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”
Why This Case Matters
No one should be fired because of their faith. Firing a person for his or her sincerely-held religious beliefs is against the law in the United States, and if this wrong is not brought to justice, the freedom of religious expression will quickly begin to deteriorate. Employers are required by law to respect and, if need be, accommodate a person's religious beliefs. If Bob can be fired for exercising his religion on his own time and his personal blog, anyone can be fired for expressing their religion at church or even in the privacy of their ownhome!
- Bob Eschliman has worked in the newspaper industry since 1998. He garnered more than 70 awards for writing or editing, and seven of those awards were won at his most recent job as Editor-in-Chief of the Newton Daily News.
- Eschliman had operated a personal blog for many years, and when Newton Daily News hired him, he made his employers aware of his blog. He was never asked to stop using his personal blog, as there was no policy preventing private blogging, and so he continued to use it. He had very few followers.
- His employer encouraged its employees to be active on their individual social media accounts, which is by definition a personal expression of speech. In addition, there are other employees of Newton Daily News who operated private blogs who still retain their jobs with Shaw Media, the owner of Newton Daily News.
- On April 28, 2014, Eschliman wrote a blog post in which he defended and explained his sincerely held theological beliefs regarding Scripture and the definition of marriage according to the Bible. The beliefs Eschliman expressed were strictly personal, and he felt compelled to share them with the small number of followers his blog held.
- On April 30, 2014, Eschliman’s boss informed him that he would be placed on an indefinite paid suspension so that the company could investigate his recent blog post. He was instructed to have no contact with any other members of the company or the media.
- On May 5, 2014, Eschliman was fired without being given a reason for his termination, and ordered to surrender his corporate effects and leave the building immediately. He was not allowed to even return to his office in order to gather his personal belongings; they were sent to his home.
- At his termination meeting, Eschliman was presented with two copies of a severance agreement and end-of-employment documents, and he was pressed to sign them. Eschliman chose not to sign them because of a potential loss of his civil rights.
- On May 6, 2014, John Rung, the president of Shaw Media and owner of Newton Daily News, authored an editorial titled “Earning public trust our priority.” Rung stated that Eschliman had been fired because of a blog post expressing his personal religious beliefs, which did not in any way align with the beliefs of Shaw Media.
- Rung then said that while Eschliman “is entitled to his opinion, his public airing of it compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”
- There is no question that the termination of Bob Eschliman by Shaw Media is an act that is against the law, as Eschliman’s blog post was in no way affiliated with Shaw Media. Eschliman’s former employer fired him for his personally held religious beliefs, which is a violation of his religious freedom under the law of the United States.
- On July 23, 2014, Liberty Institute—and its volunteer attorney team, including Matthew Whitaker, a former United States Attorney and partner in the Des Moines law firm of Whitaker, Hagenow, & Gustoff, LLP—filed an official charge of discrimination with the United State Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for their client, Bob Eschliman.
- The EEOC will begin an independent investigation of Eschliman’s charges of religious discrimination and retaliation.
- Should the EEOC determine that Shaw Media is guilty of religious discrimination, it may order broad relief, including back pay, front pay, and other significant damages for the unlawful conduct of Eschliman’s former employer.
What You Can Do
The battle to defend religious liberty in companies and organizations rages on, but we know we can win with the support of friends like you. When you stand with us and help fight back, you help achieve victories in the workplace—defending the freedom of religious expression for fellow Americans including Bob Eschliman, Please donate now to help continue the fight and protect the “free exercise” of religion in our nation—and if you or someone you know is experiencing workplace religious discrimination, please contact us today!
Full Press Release - Link
Formal Charge of Religious Discrimination - link