By Chris Hoenig
Former Newton (Iowa) Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman is suing the newspaper and its owners, Shaw Media, claiming religious discrimination after being fired for an anti-LGBT column he wrote.
Eschliman’s entry, published in April on a personal blog, questioned “the Gaystapo,” his term for those who say that homosexuality was only made a sin in the Bible starting in 1946. “It’s pretty easy to brush off a nonsensical contrived version of the Bible, but that’s not the deceivers’ end goal,” Eschliman wrote. “No, they want all Christendom to abandon their faith. They do that by ‘proselytizing’ to church leaders to change their view on homosexuality.
“If you ask me, it sounds like the Gaystapo is well on its way. We must fight back against the enemy.”
The post was publicized by national media critic Jim Romenesko, who asked Eschliman how he believed he could still appear as a fair, neutral, unbiased journalist after labeling the LGBT community as “the enemy.”
Eschliman did not respond to Romenesko and was fired within a week.
“He expressed an opinion in his personal blog that in no way reflects the opinion of the Newton Daily News or Shaw Media,” wrote John Rung, President of Shaw Media, in an editorial. “While he is entitled to his opinion, his public airing of it compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”
Eschliman has responded with the lawsuit, which claims that the paper is discriminating against him because of his religion.
“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” said Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who will be representing Eschliman, a Navy veteran. “In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing a religious belief in public. This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s welcoming workforce.”
While some legal experts say Eschliman has a legitimate case, they also agree the newspaper can easily defend the firing in the context of his profession, not his religion.
“I am not saying the newspaper does not have an attempted defense, but federal laws generally prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion,” said Mark Kende, a constitutional law Professor at Drake University. “But having said that, if I were the company, I would say that we are not firing him for his religious beliefs. We are firing him because his job is to be an impartial reporter, and as an impartial reporter he has lost his credibility, so it has nothing to do with his religion.”
“Of course, journalists have a First Amendment right to express their views,” said Drake journalism Professor Kathleen Richardson, “but newsrooms in most cases have policies in place that would discourage journalists saying anything that might indicate the news organization could not be fair.”
In referring to “the Gaystapo” as “the enemy,” Eschliman did not publish a religious column, but rather used pointed hate speech to compare the LGBT community to Adolf Hilter’s secret Nazi police force. Not only did the Gestapo murder an estimated six million European Jews, but they also targeted Roma, or gypsies (250,000 killed), Germans with disabilities (70,000 dead) and the LGBT community.
Much the way Jews were identified with Star of David badges, the Nazis forced gay men to wear pink triangle badges, identifying them in concentration camps, where observers say they were some of the most abused prisoners. An estimated 12,000 LGBT prisoners died at the hands of the Gestapo.