Former employee sues, claims forced to attend at work Bible study

I’ve held many a Bible study at past work venues over the years, all attended by willing participants.  But given today’s nutty spiritual climate, I wonder if someone would try sue me for something like “psychological oppression” for conducting such a study within their safe space?  Here’s the story…

Joel Dahl is the owner of Dahled Up Construction in Albany, Oregon.

According to the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), Mr. Dahl is “[a] former prison inmate who turned his life around after embracing Christianity, Dahl operates his company in accordance with Christian principles – his company’s logo, in fact, even has a cross where the second ‘t’ in ‘construction’ would be. Many of the people he employs are former inmates like him whose job prospects are limited due to their criminal histories.”

So what’s the problem? Apparently a former employee of Dahled Up didn’t like the weekly Bible studies that were held during business hours.  That past worker, Ryan Coleman, has filed a lawsuit, claiming he was being forced to attend the Bible studies against his will.

PJI says, “When Coleman initially filed his lawsuit, the story caught the attention of national media, including the Washington Post. Though Dahl’s company was already represented by an Oregon attorney at the time, Dahl asked PJI to assist with the defense of both himself and his company due to PJI’s expertise in the area of religious liberty. PJI attorney Ray Hacke thus filed a motion last week in an Oregon state court to dismiss Coleman’s claim that Dahl ‘aided and abetted’ his company’s alleged religious discrimination toward Coleman.”

Dahl says his company hires employees without regard to religion.  However, in accordance with his personal mission to help people find the path of the straight and narrow, Dahled Up encourages its employees to attend a weekly Bible study to be exposed to the moral lessons the Bible teaches. The study takes place during working hour  and employees who attend don’t miss out on any pay.

“Joel Dahl hopes to do more with his company than just construction work,” PJI President Brad Dacus said. “He hopes to help inmates who were once like him, and who might otherwise have difficulty finding work because of their past mistakes, find redemption.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held in recent years that Christian business owners are, for the most part, free to operate their companies in accordance with their faith’s principles. We hope to defend Mr. Dahl’s right to do the same, especially given the well-documented power of Christianity to transform even the vilest of offenders into model citizens.”

The Oregonian reported that Coleman, who reported has done prison time for delivery of methamphetamine and child neglect, is demanding $800,000 from Dahl.

“Ryan Coleman’s lawsuit states that he discovered only after he was hired as a painter for Dahled Up Construction that the job entailed more than just fixing up homes.  According to Coleman and his lawsuit, owner Joel Dahl told him all employees were required to partake in regular Bible study sessions led by a Christian pastor during the work day, while on the clock,” the paper said.

A lawyer representing Coleman said that “unless you are a religious organization like a church, you cannot force your employees to participate in religious activities.”

Dahl described himself as “second-chance” employer, taking on ex-cons to give them an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Brian Sussman

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