Religious Speech Can Be Blocked By Religious Employers: Ca. High Court

May 20, 2002 ( - Religious employers have a right to terminate workers for "objectionable religious speech" in the workplace, according to a new ruling by the California Supreme Court.

In a unanimous ruling, the state’s high court tossed a lawsuit by an evangelical Christian who was fired from a Catholic medical foundation after he proselytized to other employees.

A Superior Court jury had awarded Silo damages and attorney fees – $6,305 in economic damages and $1 for emotional distress, while his lawyer was awarded $155,245 in attorney fees.  The state Court of Appeal upheld the awards on the grounds that the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act bars religious discrimination in the workplace.

While secular employers can still be held liable for religious discrimination, religious employers need “considerable discretion to choose employees who will not interfere with their religious mission,” Justice Carlos R. Moreno wrote for the court.

Soul “Survivor”

File clerk Terence Silo had “been counseled three times previously … regarding Soul Saving on clinic premises,” the Catholic nonprofit employer wrote in Silo’s termination papers, according to a report in the LA Times.

The Catholic Healthcare West Medical Foundation, which runs 42 hospitals in California, Nevada and Arizona, had hired Silo in July 1991 to work in its medical records department in Sacramento. More than a year later, Silo experienced a religious conversion.

In January 1993, already having received a poor performance evaluation, Silo was admonished by managers at the clinic who cited complaints from both coworkers and patients about Silo’s preaching on the premises.  A month later Silo was placed on probation and warned that he would lose his job unless he got more work done.

He was eventually fired in April, at which time the termination papers cited three incidents in which Silo had continued to “preach” and “Soul Save” despite warnings. Three of his co-workers had complained of harassment from his activities.

Silo denied the charges of harassment and claimed that the religious discussions had taken place during his lunch hour.

In its ruling, the California Supreme Court cautioned that it might rule another way if a religious employer were sued for sex discrimination.

Silo, now an evangelical Christian pastor, admitted that he was “on fire” and perhaps too exuberant about “sharing the good news” when he was first born again, according to his lawyer. 

See Also State Employees Can’t Preach on the Job