State Employees Can?t Preach on the Job

December 19, 2001 ( - Two Connecticut agencies, which fired employees for talking to clients about their religious beliefs at work, did not violate the First Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act's restrictions against religious bias, according to a US Court of Appeals.

The suit, Knight v. Connecticut Department of Public Health, was initiated when Jo Ann Knight, a nurse consultant for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, was suspended for two weeks without pay after a gay couple filed complaints against the department with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

According to the complaint, she visited their home as part of her job and tried to convince the men to embrace her faith, stating, “Although God created us and loves us, He doesn’t like the homosexual lifestyle.”

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The couple charged that the department discriminated against them on the basis of sexual orientation in the provision of state services, also filing a lawsuit against Knight, which was later dismissed.

Prayer ‘Meeting’

Nicolle Quental, a sign language interpreter for the Connecticut Commission on the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, was reprimanded by her employer for allegedly upsetting patients by proselytizing in two separate incidents, one at a mental health facility.

Quental allegedly asked a mental health client if she could pray for him so that he might quit smoking, and then prayed for the client in his presence. She also allegedly gave another client religious tracts to read.

The trial court granted summary judgment in both cases.

Judgment Day

In affirming summary judgment, Judge Rosemary Pooler said that the state’s interest in promoting the efficiency of public services outweighed the plaintiffs’ interest in commenting on issues of public concern.

The court also ruled that Knight and Quental failed to make a case of religious discrimination because their employers were not aware that evangelizing was required by their religious beliefs, as the plaintiffs suggested.

– Camilla Klein