I pose the question not just to universities, but to any employee – employer relationship: should an employee be forced to attend a production or function that goes against their personal religious beliefs?
Former Lamar University theater and dance professor Linda Ozmun found out that the answer is yes. Employers believe they have the right to demand attendance at a religiously offensive performance. When she didn’t attend for religious reasons, she was reprimanded and denied tenure.
According to one source, in the fall of 2010, an artist with some connections with Lamar University performed a one-man show in town. The artist, Tim Miller is a flaming homosexual and his play was all about his perverse lifestyle and included obscene language and sexually graphic gestures. After receiving numerous complaints from the community about Miller’s show, it was quickly shut down.
But not to be thwarted, some of the theater students at the university arranged for an encore showing on campus. Knowing Miller’s reputation and the negative publicity the play received, Ozmun chose not to attend because of her Christian faith and values. Her absence was noticed by Judith Sebesta, chair of the theater and dance department at Lamar.
Sebesta questioned Ozmun about her absence from the play, at which time Ozmun explained that the play was offensive to her Christian faith and values and because of her faith, she felt compelled not to attend. At the end of that year, Ozmun received her annual evaluation which recorded her performance grade as unacceptable. There was a notation on the review referring to her failure to attend the Miller event. Ozmun filed a grievance and a short time later received it back with the notation that it had not been heard.
Ozmun was also informed that when the university brought Miller back the next year that her attendance was mandatory or she would face disciplinary action. In the fall of 2011, Lamar University did bring Miller back to perform his play, Glory Box and to conduct a student workshop where he was supposed to help theater students ‘find their voice.’
When Ozmun was informed of the return engagement, she went to Sebesta with a formal request to be excused from the performance because it was offensive to her Christian faith. The request was denied and again Ozmun was told that failure to attend would result in disciplinary action. Ozmun believed that she still had the religious right not to attend and when she didn’t, Sebesta issued disciplinary action.
Ozmun has since filed a lawsuit against Sebesta and Lamar University on grounds that they discriminated against her because of her religious beliefs. The university promptly terminated her, and as part of her lawsuit, she is asking to be reinstated and receive her lost salary.
There have been cases in the past few years when students have filed similar lawsuits against teachers and schools because of mandated assignments that also violated religious beliefs. As far as I know, most of these cases have been won by the students and the courts have upheld the student’s religious right to refuse to do the specific assignment.
We can only hope and pray that Ozmun receives a similarly favorable ruling by the court and will be able to return to her teaching position.
Scripture says that homosexuality is a perverse sin that was punishable by death. It also says that no one who practices homosexuality will inherit the kingdom of heaven. As for the actions of Sebesta and Lamar University, they need to understand that forcing a Christian to witness such a profane representation of sexual debauchery would be like forcing a Muslim to take part in the slaughter of a pig, which to them is extremely unclean and nearly unforgiveable. But I strongly suspect that that would never happen because people are afraid of Muslim retribution. But when it comes to Christians, they don’t care how much they offend you in order to push their agenda and flaunt their depravity before your eyes.