I should begin by noting that I hate beauty pageants. Judging women, in whole or in large part, by appearances is a sexist and anachronistic affront to an entire gender.
I must admit, however, that the latest wrinkle in the Carrie Prejean, former Miss California USA, controversy has grabbed my attention. Prejean, who was a finalist in the Miss USA Pageant in April, made a statement in opposition to same-sex marriage during the question and answer segment of the contest. Religious Right groups immediately began complaining that she came in second because of the content of her answer and that she deserved to win the competition.
After the event, Ms. Prejean suffered some embarrassment in regard to a series of “modeling” photographs that appeared on the Internet, but Pageant officials supported her continued activity as Miss California USA. Then, several weeks later, her employment was terminated, with officials claiming that she had failed to participate in several public events that she was contractually obliged to do and that, on the other hand, she had made some unauthorized media appearances.
Ms. Prejean has now sued Miss California USA officials Keith Lewis and Shanna Moakler, as well as publicist Roger Neal for what she claims was an illegal firing. I have no opinion about this contract dispute. However, she is also claiming that the company dismissed her because of an anti-religious bias. She is asserting that the company told her not to discuss God and her religious values even before the night she gave the infamous anti-same sex marriage answer.
I find this claim utterly preposterous. Since when can a private
employer not tell an employee that within the scope of his or her
employment, certain activities are forbidden? She wasn’t told that she
couldn’t go to the church of her choice on her own time, nor was she
forbidden to read the Bible on her lunch hour. She was told that
theological discourse was not a part of her duties.
Can’t a life insurance company tell its employees that they can’t
evangelize on company time, or does every insurance agent have a
“right” to not only try to sell you life insurance but also chat you up
about “eternal life”? Could an actor hired specifically to play Hamlet
just replace Shakespeare’s lines with Bible verses and claim some “free
exercise of religion” right to do so?
Don’t get me wrong. If Ms. Prejean showed that contestants were
never chosen if they were adherents of a particular faith or that no
efforts were made to accommodate religious observances in setting
up her public appearance schedule, she might have a legal leg to stand
on. But from what I’ve seen, she decided that preaching on the
pageant’s dime is a constitutional “right.”
From that postion, I must dissent.
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