Office Depot CEO Roland Smith apologized on Friday to a Roman Catholic Chicago woman one of his stores refused a service to in August. Maria Goldstein went to an Office Depot in Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago, asking for 500 copies of a pro-life prayer. The Schaumburg outlet originally said copying the prayer violated its company policy that prohibits copying items that advocate the persecution of certain groups of people. Company spokeswoman Karen Denning told the Chicago Tribune the prayer “contained material that advocates the persecution of people who support abortion rights.” Later, the company issued a statement saying the prayer “is not a clear violation of the company’s policy.”
Then the statement says:
‘We sincerely apologize to Ms. Goldstein for her experience and our initial reaction was not at all related to her religious beliefs. We invite her to return to Office Depot if she still wishes to print the flyer,’ said Roland Smith, chairman and chief executive officer, Office Depot.
Office Depot should be free to reject copying anything for any reason, in my book. In a free country, companies should be free to run their business however they see fit. If they want to send a hostile message to Roman Catholics, pro-lifers, and people who pray, that’s their business. Those of us in those categories are free to take our business elsewhere.
Still, it’s good that Office Depot apologized to Goldstein precisely because her copy request didn’t appear to come even close to violating their stated policy. The company’s claim that the prayer is no longer considered a “clear” violation of the company’s policy makes it seem like it arguably could be a violation of the company’s policy. While recognizing, again, that they should be free to reject any project they want, that’s a ridiculous claim. Let’s look at their policy, and then the prayer. First up, the portion of their statement that explains their policy:
Office Depot has contacted Ms. Goldsteins’s representative to explain that the store associate’s decision to decline a print order was in no way based on religious beliefs, but on the fact that it contained certain words and phrases that could be construed as graphic or advocates the persecution of groups of people, which is a violation of the company’s copy and print policy.
Office Depot has long maintained a policy of not allowing associates to print items that violate copyright laws, advocate persecution of any group or contain graphic material.
Here, again, some background is in order. A nonprofit law firm called the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to Office Depot on Sept. 10 challenging the company’s refusal as religious discrimination and a violation of the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. When Goldstein complained to corporate higher ups, the company stood by the refusal. Thomas More Society let Office Depot know it would be pursuing action with the Cook County Human Rights Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. So this response from Office Depot is all about covering its behind on the religious discrimination claim.
But what’s with this absolutely bizarre charge about advocacy of persecution? Does the prayer actually call for persecution of those who support and perform fetal organ harvesting and other aspects of the abortion trade?
That is, unless we’re going to say that Christianity in general is persecuting the world by praying for it. You can read Goldstein’s flyer here. It has a variety of statistics including information about Planned Parenthood’s receipt of government funds, the taxpayer funding the corporation receives, the corporation’s revenue and assets, its recent decrease in cancer prevention services, the number of abortions Planned Parenthood has performed (327,653 in 2013 alone). The sheet also discusses the federally qualified health centers that provide health services to low-income populations without also performing abortions and provides a link to videos of PP execs discussing the harvesting of human organs from aborted babies.
I assume we’re on the same page that no matter your view on the morality of human organ harvesting from aborted babies, this does not constitute “persecution.” Which leaves us with … the prayer. Here it is in its entirety:
Prayer for the Conversion of Planned Parenthood
Join in prayer and fasting Aug. 22-29
Lord for whom all things are possible, We are confronted once again today with the evil of the abortion industry and the corruption found in the world’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood.
Lord, we pray for all who plan to be parents, and we ask your mercy on those who teach others to reject parenthood. In light of your Word, Lord, we affirm today that children are a blessing from you, and that the origin of all parenthood is likewise in You, the God of life and love.
Therefore, Oh God, we stand against the evil that has been exposed in Planned Parenthood and in the entire abortion industry. We stand today for the triumph of truth over falsehood, of light over darkness, and of life over death.
Bring an end to the killing of children in the womb, and bring an end to the sale of their body parts. Bring conversion to all who do this, and enlightenment to all who advocate it.
Close the doors of the death camps in our midst, and open the doors of your mercy and healing! Close the grisly trade in baby body parts. And open the abundant gifts of your salvation and life!
Hasten the day when our land will no longer be stained with innocent blood, and when the bodies of all your children will be raised from the dead and set free forever. We pray in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen!
Perhaps Office Depot supports the ending of human life in the womb and doesn’t want to help those who oppose the violence of abortion. That’s their business. But to claim that this prayer, composed by Rev. Frank Pavone, the national director of the pro-life group Priests for Life, is even arguably one calling for persecution of those who support aborting children is grossly unfair. It prays for their mercy, conversion, and enlightenment.
If Office Depot believes that praying for the mercy, conversion, and enlightenment of those who harvest human organs from unborn children is even arguably persecution, they simply have to see how that sounds like they have a problem with Christianity in general. If Office Depot will only print prayers that can be found at a Unitarian Universalist church, that’s their business and it should be their right (even if Illinois and Cook County disagree).
My Lutheran congregation had a special prayer service on Saturday for victims of abortion. Our prayers tend to emphasize our own sin more than Pavone’s prayer does. We also tend to emphasize the forgiveness of sins more than this prayer. But as for calling for mercy, conversion, and enlightenment of those who engage in the killing and human organ harvesting of those in the womb, we’re certainly in agreement. So if a prayer that orthodox Christians of various stripes can and do pray is potentially over the line for Office Depot, they should explain how that’s not religious discrimination. Ceasing the claim that these prayers are arguably a call for persecution would be a good step toward that end.