The Counsellor's Corner


Two interesting rulings were made last week on the limits or lack thereof of freedom of religion.  The first one took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan by women who were barred from attending a speech he gave in Boston in 1994.  Marceline Donaldson spearheaded the suit which claimed her civil rights were violated when her husband and she attempted to attend the speech and they were told her husband could enter but she could not.  The case went to trial and after the plaintiffs’ rested their case, the defense made a motion to dismiss which was granted. 

How do you feel about that?  If men want to meet and don’t want women present, should religious beliefs be the instrument for attaining that goal?  Farrakhan told the crowd that he “merely wanted to talk to a group of black men” but that women outside the theater were behaving in a disorderly fashion “because they wanted to see their brothers.”

I have always wondered why people want to go where they are not wanted.  I am Jewish and there are still several clubs and organizations in the greater Los Angeles area that are not fond of Jewish people.  Regardless of my personal opinion on this, if they don’t want me, I don’t want them.  Alternatively, if I want to start an organization for men who are both attorneys and therapists, I would not want to be told I had to allow people other than the above to come to the meetings and that if I did not, I would be violating state law. 

This is strange in that I never thought I would agree with Louis Farrakhan on anything.  As someone who hates Jews, the fact that he exists and there are those who respect him troubles me.  I do, however,  believe that his organization, along with an equally abhorrent group such as the Ku Klux Klan ought to be permitted to meet.  This should not be a freedom-of-religion issue.  If a group wants to have a Million Man March, I say let them.  By excluding women, I believe the march loses much of its value, meaning, and purpose.  In a nutshell, I abhor all discrimination and think that those who discriminate are pathetic in that each individual ought to be judged as an individual rather than being grouped in a gender or a color and judged in that fashion.  While I believe the categorization of people like this is a sign of an insecure and weak person, it doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

The second case occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, where K-Mart was sued by a pharmacist who alleges she was fired as she would not dispense “morning-after birth control pills” due to her religious beliefs.  Karen Brauer, who is Roman Catholic, claims that an employee should not be subject to firing because she wants to be true to her religious beliefs.  In Ms. Brauer’s case, she was fired by K-Mart from her job as a pharmacist in 1996 after she would not sign a document saying that she would dispense Micronor which causes abortions the morning after conception. 

I am sympathetic to Ms. Brauer.  If she were a new employee, I would not have any difficulty with K-Mart refusing to hire someone as a pharmacist who would not dispense any and all medications sought by people. This case is different, however, for Ms. Brauer had been a K-Mart employee and had no difficulty with her employment until morning-after pills were approved in this country and K-Mart decided to make them part of the pharmaceutical equation.  Ms. Brauer’s religion does not permit abortions.  It strikes me that once you are employed, if you are subsequently asked to do something in opposition to your religious beliefs, termination is not the appropriate remedy.  I realize there are potential problems with this approach, however to me the key is the fact that Ms. Brauer was already a K-Mart employee when this took place.  Her religious beliefs should be protected here.


Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.