The New York Post reported on April 2, 2012, jurors in a New York City courtroom awarded lesbian chef Mirella Salemi $400,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages from Edward Globokar, the former owner of Mary Ann’s on West Broadway in Manhattan. What was he accused of doing? Mr. Globokar was accused of discriminating against employees who didn’t share his religious or personal beliefs. What dastardly acts did he commit in furtherance of his intolerant and prejudicial scheme? He held employee prayer meetings inside the restaurant during the years in which Ms. Salemi was a chef. Mr. Globokar, according to Derek Smith, a lawyer for Ms. Salemi, “thought praying might cure her of her sexuality, but she didn’t need to be saved.”
What do you say to this? Of course, we don't know how it will fare upon appeal and I suspect not all, if any, of the financial award will be upheld. Yet the event begs for more information. Were the prayer meetings mandatory or voluntary? Was she there for the prayer or present? How was she and what kind of damage was presumed in the award?
Now, let me begin by saying it appears that Mr. Globokar was indelicate at the least and obnoxious at worst. But how was this woman damaged -- really? She had the job. Was she in danger of losing it? Was she closeted about her sexuality or was it openly known? Was the working relationship impossible or just annoying? I do not want to appear to side with the restaurant owner but at the same time I certainly do not countenance the bruised egos that seek to be noticed and compensated for having to put up with things you do not agree with or find insulting. Such is life. It happens to Christians as much as by Christians. Shall we all sue those who disagree with us or those whose opinions we find insulting or obnoxious?
What is equally shocking is that the comments have shown that nearly everyone is universally in agreement with Ms. Salemi (or those who disagree are afraid to speak up in public). Few have stood up for any principle of free speech or freedom of religion and a great number of folks thought the man got what he deserved -- even giddy to see the excess of the amount of damages awarded.
It is truly regrettable that Ms. Salemi had to put up with what she felt was a hostile atmosphere at work but she is hardly alone. My wife is a nurse who faces harassment from patients and their families on a regular basis -- more than complaints about care or circumstances but outright challenges against her character and the quality of the care she provides. I would expect that every nurse could tell many stories a whole lot more shocking and rude than this one. I have been accused of being a blood sucking leech (because I am a Pastor) and I have had people tell lies and half-truths about me for disagreements over wedding practices, priority of sports over catechism, etc. What Pastor hasn't? Maybe I should sue as well.
The great sadness in this is not that there are brutes, bullies, and fools of all religious persuasions and sexual preferences. Rather the shame in this is that we treat every instance of someone's disapproval as legal cause for compensation and punishment of the offender. The shame in all of this is that we have become a very thin skinned culture in which we feel we are owed not only tolerance but acceptance, not only acceptance but subsidy from the offenders. The shame in this is that a court issued not only a ruling but a compensatory verdict that is excess in comparison to the claim and so has become a punitive enforcer of a political correctness that tolerates no dissent.
In such a culture, the real loser is free speech. Except, of course, those who criticize Christianity, Christian churches, Christian Pastors, and individual Christians. Every stand up comic knows you can let loose against them no matter what and nobody will doing anything -- except laugh, applaud, and pay you for it. There is hate speech but not everyone who speaks disapprovingly of you or who disdains you and your lifestyle is a hater guilty of hate speech. Where is the common sense?