Bob Eschliman is a Christian. He's also a veteran news editor. And when he decided to write a column on his personal blog objecting to a gay-friendly version of the Bible, Bob was unceremoniously marched out of the Newton Daily News and shoved out the front door.
After a brief investigation, the Iowa newspaper fired Bob and then publicly castigated him in an editorial. They accused him of compromising the reputation of the newspaper. They said what he wrote resulted in the loss of public trust.
Bob ran afoul of the newspaper's bosses by daring to criticize the "Queen James Bible" website. The website sells copies of God's Word that have been rewritten with a gay friendly slant.
"If you ask me, it sounds like the Gaystapo is well on its way," Bob wrote. "We must fight back against the enemy."
Bob wrote those words on April 28. Two days later he was ordered into his boss's office and placed on indefinite paid leave. On May 5 he was fired.
The following day, John Rung, the president of Shaw Media, penned an editorial ruthlessly attacking Bob.
"The First Amendment does not eliminate responsibility and accountability for one's words and actions," Rung wrote. "While he [Bob] is entitled to his opinion, his public airing of it compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it."
I'd say what's left of the newspaper's reputation is about to be severely tarnished.
Wednesday, Bob filed formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Shaw Media and the Newton Daily News. Attorneys from Liberty Institute allege the newspaper and its parent company are guilty of religious discrimination and retaliation.
And based on my conversations with Liberty Institute attorneys – they're going to go after the newspaper like a pit bull going after a pork chop.
"No one should be fired for simply expressing their religious beliefs," Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys told me. "That's exactly what happened to Bob. This kind of religious intolerance has no place in today's welcoming work force. In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for simply expressing a religious belief that his or her employer may not share."
Dys said Bob was fired for trying to "explain his belief in Holy Scripture along with the definition of marriage."
"They need to be reminded that people of faith can be employed in public and they do not need to be – as the Eleventh Circuit put it – banished to the broom closets and whispers in the hallways," Dys told me. "That's not what religious liberty is about."
So are Shaw Media and the Newton Daily News anti-Christian? Do they employ executives who are religious bigots? Should journalists who endorse traditional marriage simply not apply for jobs?
I decided to call Shaw Media's head honcho to get answers to those questions.
Unfortunately, the head honcho did not want to take my call. Instead, he had his secretary (a very pleasant sounding lady) deliver the message.
She said they had not heard of the lawsuit and even if they had Shaw Media would not comment on pending litigation. I received a similar email message from the current publisher of the Newton Daily News.
Bob told me he is pretty torn up over the controversy.
"As a journalist, I know how important the First Amendment is for our country," he told me. "As an editor, I've always felt it's dangerous for a newspaper to censor anybody's ideas – whether they agree with them or disagree with them."
There were a few issues that I had with Bob's story. First, why was a newsman writing a personal blog? In many newsrooms across the country, such activity is outright banned.
Bob tells me Shaw Media does not have a policy prohibiting personal blogs or social networking sites. When he was hired, Bob told them he had a personal blog and he said he was encouraged to continue his off-the-clock writings.
And then there was the matter of the content. At first glance, it appears Bob was referring to the LGBT community as "the enemy."
But it turns out – that's not the case at all. He said he was referring to Satan – not homosexuals.
That's a valid explanation. In the Christian tradition, Satan is often referred to as the "Enemy." However, since Bob used a lower case 'e' – it implied the LGBT community was the enemy.
"Bob confessed it was a failure on his editorial part," Dys told me. "He forgot to capitalize the 'e'."
During my conversations with Bob he seemed like a stand-up guy. I suspect had the newspaper bosses given him a chance to dialogue about the posting, they could have worked out an amicable and reasonable solution. But it doesn't sound like the folks at Shaw Media are all that reasonable.
"There will be some who will criticize our action, and mistakenly site Mr. Eschliman's First Amendment rights as a reason he should continue on as an editor of the Newton Daily News," Rung wrote. "As previously stated, he has a right to voice his opinion. And we have a right to select an editor who we believe best represents our company and best serves the interests of our readers."
So for what it's worth – Shaw Media decided that Bob, a faithful husband and father, a devout and outspoken Christian man, an award-winning journalist – did not represent the values of their company.
Maybe Shaw Media ought to reconsider its values.
It's a shame a company that exists, thanks to freedom of press, wants to take away a man's freedom of speech.