Making the "Friendly Skies" Friendlier to Faith

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire

ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel

April 14, 2009

Larry Dombrowski was at work and among friends.

A supervisor for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Dombrowski is a civil service employee who worked out of Louisville, Kentucky.  In the course of some normal days' conversations of the kind that happen every day in breakrooms and parking lots and at water coolers all across America, he politely, but publicly, chatted about his Christian faith with some of his co-workers, as well as what the Bible teaches about homosexual behavior.  None of the co-workers expressed any offense at Dombrowski's statements.

But somebody said something to somebody.  And one day, Dombrowski received notice that he was being officially reprimanded by his regional FAA manager for "unbecoming conduct."

As punishment, he was being punished with a seven-day suspension without pay and a forced relocation to Birmingham, Alabama.

Understand, there was nothing illegal in what Dombrowski said.  And he didn't say it in a browbeating, "my way or the highway" tone.  Furthermore, he didn't give any indication that anyone who worked for him and didn't agree with his Christian beliefs would be penalized – anymore than they would have been punished for rooting for a different sports team or preferring a different movie or restaurant.

In fact, Dombrowski was actually told he had "no free speech rights in the government workplace" – a viewpoint which would have come as quite a surprise to the men who wrote the Constitution.  Which is why Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on Dombrowski's behalf.

Earlier this month, Dombrowski won that lawsuit, reaching a settlement agreement with the FAA that clears his record and requires the government to pay attorneys' fees and costs.  What's more, as part of this agreement, the FAA distributed a memo titled "Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Expression in the Workplace" to all its employees in the Southern region. The document, originally issued by the White House in 1997, informs federal government agencies that they "shall permit personal religious expression by Federal employees to the greatest extent possible, consistent with requirements of law and interests in workplace efficiency" as stipulated in the guidelines.

You can read more about the case of Dombrowski v. Federal Aviation Administration and the details of the settlement here.

"Christians shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. "Government agencies have no right to harass and threaten employees who choose to express their religious faith in a manner that does not disrupt the workplace. We are pleased that the FAA has taken steps to ensure that all employees' First Amendment rights will be respected."

We are thankful for the grace that brought justice to Larry Dombrowski, and I hope you'll be in prayer for our ADF lawyers as they represent many other Christians around the country who are being silenced in their workplace because they dare to share openly, thoughtfully, respectfully the deepest beliefs of their heart.