Religious-liberty lawyers are representing a Christian owner of a construction company who was sued for paying his workers to attend a Bible study.
The Oregonian newspaper in Portland ran a headline “Lawsuit: Oregon construction worker fired for refusing to attend Bible study.”
But there’s a lot more to the story, according to the Pacific Justice Institute.
PJI explained that Joel Dahl is the owner and sole officer of Dahled Up Construction in Albany, Oregon.
“A former prison inmate who turned his life around after embracing Christianity, Dahl operates his company in accordance with Christian principles – his company’s logo, in fact, even has a cross where the second ‘t’ in ‘construction’ would be. Many of the people he employs are former inmates like him whose job prospects are limited due to their criminal histories,” PJI said.
“Dahled Up hires employees without regard to religion. However, in accordance with its mission to help people who were once in Dahl’s position find the path of the straight and narrow, the company encourages its employees to attend a weekly Bible study to be exposed to the moral lessons the Bible teaches. The study takes place during working hours, and employees who attend receive pay,” PJI said.
The dispute arose in August, because although “many Dahled Up employees willingly attend the Bible study as they seek to make positive changes in their own lives,” a former employee, Ryan Coleman, sued on the claim that he was required to attend.
“When Coleman initially filed his lawsuit, the story caught the attention of national media, including the Washington Post. Though Dahl’s company was already represented by an Oregon attorney at the time, Dahl asked PJI to assist with the defense of both himself and his company due to PJI’s expertise in the area of religious liberty. PJI attorney Ray Hacke thus filed a motion last week in an Oregon state court to dismiss Coleman’s claim that Dahl ‘aided and abetted’ his company’s alleged religious discrimination toward Coleman,” PJI said.
“Joel Dahl hopes to do more with his company than just construction work,” PJI President Brad Dacus said. “He hopes to help inmates who were once like him, and who might otherwise have difficulty finding work because of their past mistakes, find redemption.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held in recent years that Christian business owners are, for the most part, free to operate their companies in accordance with their faith’s principles. We hope to defend Mr. Dahl’s right to do the same, especially given the well-documented power of Christianity to transform even the vilest of offenders into model citizens.”
The Oregonian reported at the time the case was filed that Coleman was demanding $800,000 from Dahl.
“Ryan Coleman’s lawsuit states that he discovered only after he was hired as a painter for Dahled Up Construction that the job entailed more than just fixing up homes. According to Coleman and his lawsuit, owner Joel Dahl told him all employees were required to partake in regular Bible study sessions led by a Christian pastor during the work day, while on the clock,” the report said.
Coleman claimed he was told he was not allowed to demand how the company was run. The employee responded with a statement that the company would not tell him “what god to pray to.”
A lawyer representing Coleman said that “unless you are a religious organization like a church, you cannot force your employees to participate in religious activities.”
Dahl described himself as “second-chance” employer, taking on ex-cons to give them an opportunity to rebuild their lives.
The Oregonian said Coleman reported serving prison terms for delivery of methamphetamine and child neglect.