Saturday, September 10, 2011

Harassment and Bullying in the Church

Harassment and bullying are not tolerated in most secular jobs and societies.  Many secular governments and institutions enact laws and rules not only protecting people from harassment and bullying but giving recourse for victims and society to hold aggressors accountable.  This is true whether the aggressor is an individual, group, or official.

Since church leaders promote themselves as superior purveyors of truth and justice, one might expect the church to be less tolerant of harassment and bullying behaviors than secular society.  However, Canon Law barely addresses the topic other than in cases where someone was coerced into receiving a sacrament.  Quite frankly, laypeople can be harassed or bullied because Canon Law grants few rights to laypeople and little to no recourse for holding clergy accountable when bullying occurs.   

In addition to the reduced rights Canon Law hierarchically affords laypeople, Canon Law interpretations further enable harassment and bullying because they usually favor protecting the images of clergy and the institution over laypeople’s dignity.  This occurs for a few reasons:
1.  Clergy serve as judges in cases of Canon Law.
2.  Clergy acting as judges almost universally incorrectly perform a mental substitution of the word “hierarchy” for the word “church” when it appears in Canon Law rather than correctly interpreting it as “the people of God”.
3.  Many clergy such as Pope Benedict have transformed the apostolic duty to serve the least among us into a superiority complex, and perverted leadership into manipulation - believing clergy need to manipulate “simple minded” laypeople of “simple faith” “for their own good and salvation”. 

However, manipulation is a form of harassment and bullying, as is coercion.  These tactics combined with power imbalance induce stress and exasperate a person so as to control their behavior or get rid of them if they can’t be controlled. Threats, humiliation, fear, deception, lies, ignoring, ostracizing, stalling, or evasion to control people or situations all constitute harassment and bullying. Sometimes bullies try to make the victim seem like the bully which in itself is a bullying tactic. 

In the case of coercion, aggressors present themselves as allies of the victim and then work to neutralize the victim's critical thinking skills.  Consequently, victims gradually lose their decision-making abilities to exercise informed consent or dissent and instead complacently follow the group’s ideological dictates, conditioned by fears of rejection, exclusion, humiliation, excommunication, or damnation.

Any of these tactics place and maintain the victim in a state of disequilibrium.  Victims often remain silent about the abuse because the abuser holds some form of power over them, or successfully undermines their confidence or credibility.  By confusing, intimidating and silencing their victims, people who benefit from these behaviors often evade exposure, accountability or prosecution.  Canon Law provides little to no protection, support or recourse for victims and actually promotes silence in the interest of preserving public image.  However, harassment and bullying destroy church unity. 

Stopping harassment, bullying, manipulation or coercion requires recognizing the abuse, naming it, rejecting it and exposing it.  Since the people are the church, if we want the church to be intolerant of harassment and bullying, we must collectively reject it in our institution and its leaders.

In the spirit of educating people so that they can be aware of and name abuse, at the end of this article I provide some examples of harassment, bullying, manipulation and coercion that I’ve witnessed in the church.  I have noted some examples where Canon Law actually promotes or allows such tactics to highlight the systemic support Canon Law provides individual abusers within the church.  Individual and group codependent behavior combined with Canon Law and governing structures enable these types of harassment to occur.  Until laypeople recognize and reject the behaviors en masse, only superficial corrections or improvements will occur.

Jesus did not commit, condone or permit harassment and bullying.  He actually was a victim of these behaviors because he confronted religious bullies.  Do we do likewise? 

What harassment and bullying do we tolerate in the church?  Why?  How do we enable or contribute to such behaviors?  What will we do to reject harassment and bullying in the church?  Do we avoid exposing and rejecting abuses or supporting victims so as to maintain our stature, esteem or favorite ministerial duties within the church? 

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DEFINITIONS AND EXAMPLES OF HARASSMENT AND BULLYING

Harassment and bullying DOES NOT include persistently pursuing someone to perform tasks or duties reasonably associated with that person’s job or role.  I mention this first because a pastor or other church leader might incorrectly try to label as “a bully” a parishioner who persistently pursues them to address a parish or church concern.  Addressing parish and church concerns is a normal and reasonable duty to expect of church leaders.  Thus someone persistently expecting church leaders to do this is not a bully.  However, a leader’s evasion of duty is harassment and it is bullying if leaders label as “a bully” someone who expects them to perform their duties.  Under Canon Law, the layperson has a right to question when this occurs but no recourse if their questions remain unanswered.

Harassment and bullying include:
Deliberate insults, unsubstantiated criticism, ridicule, slandering or maligning the person or the person’s family
Example: A priest or parishioner calls a person “dissenter”, “out of communion” or “non-Catholic”, or even makes fun of the way the person participates at Mass.  The goal is to undermine confidence and credibility.  An excellent example of this occurred last week when an anonymous person wrote a comment in this blog inaccurately calling me “out of communion with the church” and ridiculing my singing at Mass.  The anonymous nature of the comment added yet another dimension to the bullying. 

·         Discussions or supervision of the person without his/her knowledge. Though this practice is de-humanizing and not acceptable in most secular jobs, Canon Law explicitly permits it.
Example: A Director of Religious Education discusses “issues” about a catechist with the pastor or diocesan personnel without the catechist’s knowledge.  A parishioner is discussed at parish staff or parish council meetings without their knowledge.

·         Administrative penalties which are suddenly directed against an individual without any objective cause, explanation or effort at jointly validating or solving underlying problems. Penalties could be removal from office or dismissal from duties.  This often results after secret discussions have occurred.  The victim is “accused”, “tried”, “convicted” and “sentenced” without knowing the charges, being able to refute or defend against them, or having the opportunity to address valid concerns.  This allows the harassers to avoid addressing facts or opinions contrary to theirs. Canon Law permits non-ordained people to be treated this way because Canon Law says laypeople don’t have a right to any ministerial position.  Thus a layperson can be dismissed from any paid or volunteer position at the whim of clergy without due process or explanation.
Example: Continuing the example from above, the catechist is barred from all teaching ministries but had no knowledge that there was an issue.  She is denied an opportunity to understand the concerns or address them because the desired effect is to eliminate her, not to have everyone in the situation learn and grow.  

·         Deliberately withholding information, supplying false information or spreading rumors Canon Law permits this tactic.  It asserts that since laypeople don’t have a right to any ministerial position they don’t have a right to the human dignity of an honest explanation for dismissal.  Canon Law explicitly calls for image management which inspires many church leaders to use this bullying tactic without any tinge of remorse.  However, this tactic violates one of the Ten Commandments – that of bearing false witness.  Thus, the rampant practice of this tactic indicates a cultural acceptance of favoring human-made Canon Law that permits deception, over God’s Commandment that demands truth. 
Example: The church offers countless examples of this.  Bishops have masterfully used this tactic covering up sexual abuse and moving sex offenders.  However this occurs in many other ways too including by parish staff members.  The parish receptionist tells a parishioner that “Fr. is out” when he is in his office but just doesn’t want to deal with this person.  Fr. tells someone they must relinquish a volunteer position “for their humility” when Fr. really just doesn’t want to deal with the person.  A bishop orders a pastor to sanction a parishioner but forbids the pastor from telling the parishioner why.  The list is seemingly endless.

The Archbishop of Detroit recently provided a public example of this when he warned people away from the American Catholic Conference by spreading false information about the event. Cardinal Rigali likewise misinformed the public earlier this year when he said that no priests accused of sexual misconduct were active in ministry when dozens of them were. 

All of these are not only examples of bullying and harassment, but also of breaking a Commandment.

·         Isolating, ostracizing, boycotting, dismissing or disregarding the victim. This tactic is being used increasingly, especially by orthodox and conservative individuals, groups and clergy.  It often coincides with the previous tactic of withholding information.   
Example: Theologians are censured and barred without explanation.  Their financial livelihood is impaired severely.  People are ex-communicated.  Even those remaining in full communion but with whom the orthodox crowd disagree suffer isolation, or elimination from church ministries and groups.  Clergy do not acknowledge or respond to parishioners’ communications.  Parishioners are barred from church sponsored ministries.  A parishioner suffers “the silent treatment” from parish staff or clergy.  The list is long.  

·         Intimidation, persecution and threats of persecution – In the church threats of excommunication, censure and dismissal are common tools for trying to control behavior.  Excommunication tries to threaten people with eternal damnation, an especially cruel form of bullying.  These tactics are permitted under Canon Law.
Example:  People supporting female ordinations are threatened with excommunication.  A church employee is forced to resign for running a progressive Catholic website.  A bishop is dismissed for suggesting dialogue within the church on certain topics.  People lose or fear losing their jobs and livelihoods for speaking their conscience.  

·         Humiliation, or repeated unsubstantiated negative remarks, criticism or sarcasm – These are permitted in the treatment of lay people by clergy because there is no recourse for those who suffer this treatment.  Sadly, ill-formed clergy mistake humiliation for humility.
Example: The pastor puts a Catholic school teacher on the spot during his homily with the intention of “putting her in her place”. An instrumentalist who regularly participates in music ministry is told in front of the choir that his gifts are not needed one day when he arrives for Mass. 

Manipulation tactics include:
Delay Tactics: “I know you are a trained and commissioned lector but I don't know when we can get you on the schedule.”  “I can’t do anything about that until we have a meeting”…but the meeting never gets scheduled.  

False Fronts: One justification is given as a front instead of the real, hidden, motive for the action or event.  “We just don’t need any more help right now” is given as an excuse when the real reason is, “We just don’t want you.”  Or, a bishop says, “we need to close this parish because of the priest shortage” when actually, “I want to close this parish because I can sell the property for a good price.”  The pastor tells the parish, “We need you to donate for a new roof” when the parish already has funds to pay for the new roof but the pastor wants more money. 
 
False Fronts and Possibilities: These are used to deceive by claiming that something is impossible giving false reasons when it is actually possible but the person just doesn’t want to permit it or discuss it. A pastor tells a parishioner, “I’d love to have you help in this ministry but the bishop won’t permit it” when actually the pastor just doesn’t want the person to help.  A bishop says, “I can’t help with this situation because the pastor has rights under Canon Law” when Canon Law actually gives the bishop the power to act but the bishop just doesn’t want to deal with the situation. A bishop claims, “Canon Law prevented me from removing that pedophile priest” when Canon Law allows a bishop to remove a pastor for any reason he deems valid but the bishop didn’t want to undertake the administrative effort to follow the process.  

Divide and Conquer: This uses division and conflict so that the different conflicting groups can be more easily manipulated or controlled.  For example, the pastor tells members of the conservative organization things about progressive parishioners and vice versa.  Both groups assume he is an ally but he is really working to keep the two groups divided and reliant upon him.  If they actually cooperated, they might be too strong of a force for him to control.

Divide and Dismiss: This tries to weaken complaints by dividing or dismissing the complaints.  Dividing the complaint pulls apart the argument and causes multiple people to deal with a fragment of the complaint when often complaints need to be addressed in the context of the entirety of circumstances.  This is used to discredit complaints or make them seem trivial.  A parishioner tries to show needs for systemic improvements in parish hospitality by assembling one example from each major ministry.  Rather than deal with the systemic issue, the pastor looks at each individual example as a stand-alone matter for each individual ministry lead to handle.  The single example, isolated from the full body of the complaint, looks trivial to each ministry head who is unaware of the totality of the examples.

Changing the Rules: The person in control arbitrarily changes operating rules to their benefit.  For example a pastor tells parents that school tuition is based upon tithing a set percentage of income but then imposes a minimum tuition amount after he realizes some families’ incomes are so low they will contribute below his desired target.  A parish employee is hired under an agreement that she will work for benefits instead of wages, but then is told she must take a part-time wage with no benefits.  The pastor used to allow girls to be altar servers but doesn't anymore.

Security and Authority: Sometimes authorities or organizations will provoke attacks on themselves so that they can obtain more power and authority to address the attack.  This is often used as a front to deal with legitimate complaints directed at them.  For example, Legionnaires for Christ did this when the atrocities of its founder sexually abusing children and seminarians were exposed.  They said it was an attack by the devil and members should redouble their efforts defending the organization and its leader.  When pedophile priests and their enabling bishops are pursued for accountability, they cry they are being persecuted and ask the faithful to rally around the guilty rather than address the problem. 

Administrative Maze and Complexity: This is used to discourage complaints.  This tactic occurs when a person creates nebulous or complex feedback procedures to discourage grievances or complaints. It is actually a direct result of Canon Law permitting laypeople to ask questions but granting them no recourse when their questions are ignored, or answered with false answers.  This is a common operating practice of many church leaders. 

Ambiguities: No answer is provided to questions at all, or answers are given as an ambiguity. Ambiguities give the illusion that an answer has been provided when one has not.  The pastor responds to an inquiring parishioner that he has read her expressed concerns.  This might satisfy the parishioner to assume that his reading the concerns means he is going to address them.  The hope is that providing an ambiguous response will get the person off his back so that he doesn't have to address her concerns.

Coercion tactics include:
1.  Establish control over the person's social environment, time and sources of social support by a system of rewards and punishments. Social isolation is promoted. Contact with persons who do not share group-approved attitudes is limited and set as a thing to fear.  Canon Law indirectly permits this tactic to occur.
2.  Prohibit non-conforming information and non-supporting opinions in group communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss.  Canon Law explicitly permits this tactic.
3.  Create a sense of powerlessness by undermining the person's self-confidence and judgment.  Canon Law indirectly permits this tactic to occur.
4.  Create strong aversive emotional arousal in the subject by using nonphysical punishments such as humiliation, loss of privilege, social isolation, social status changes, intense guilt, anxiety, manipulation and other techniques.  Canon Law both explicitly and implicitly allows these tactics in certain situations.

14 comments:

  1. By definition, a Catholic subscribes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and non-Catholics don't. If any priest or bishop is under the impression that you are a Catholic in good standing, he clearly hasn't read this blog. If the Pope and all his successors have been wrong about everything for 2000 years, thank goodness that you've arrived!

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  2. @StevieD, Your above comment borders on inappropriate but I published it anyway so that I can publicly address your errors.

    1. Yes, my bishop sees my blogs and a book manuscript I've written of similar content. We have had specific communications regarding this which is how I am quite certain that I am in full communion.
    2. A priest does not have the authority to excommunicate me. That is reserved for a bishop. And as I noted above, mine has not excommunicated me.
    3. I have sent my questions like this to other bishops, archbishops, cardinals and the pope. None have excommunicated me. Some have responded entering into dialogue with me.
    4. The parts that are borderline in your comment pertain to judging my knowledge and attention to the CCC, as well as my standing in the Church. You are not a credible judge of that and have no right to insinuate anyone's superior or inferior mastery of Church doctrine. You have no right to assess my or anyone's standing in the Church. If you would like to continue to participate in this blog, you will need to discontinue judging. I say that because in just a short period of time tonight, though you seem to disapprove of my writings, you submitted a flurry of comments.

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  3. I've been thinking more about StevieD's assertion about the Catechism as pertains to this blog posting. Do you think that the CCC says we should accept bullying?

    Also, this blog article mainly discusses the Code of Canon Law. That is not considered infallible doctrine. It's not considered doctrine - it is law - human-made law. It is changeable and has been changed. There actually was no form of codification for the first 500 years of the church. For more information on the history of Canon Law at least up until 1917 (there was a major revision published in 1983) you might visit the Catholic University of America's site at http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/canon%20law/shorthistorycanonlaw.htm.

    As Pope John Paul II said when he signed the 1983 Code into law, canon law "is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms, and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful."

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  4. You're a bully! In fact the very definition. You will not accept any criticism of your self yet you chide, criticize and bully church leaders in other blogs about their weight, demeanor, etc. Look at your self lady

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  5. Actually, I do accept criticism as demonstrated by publishing your comment and other critical comments to this blog; thus your comment is inaccurate and invalid.

    As to whether I am the "very definition" of a bully, I offer this thought. Persistently holding someone accountable to do what is reasonably expected is not considered bullying. Please highlight specific comments that you consider bullying since your two examples don't draw anything to mind. Saying things people dislike, or with which they disagree, or offering constructive criticism are not considered bullying.

    Also, bullying implies a certain power structure. What power do you believe I have over church leaders?

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  6. And, you violated the rules of this blog in that you did not identify yourself. Please identify yourself and take responsibility for your comments. Nonetheless, I published your comment anyway.

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  7. Another thought occurred to me. I have solicited criticism and guidance from numerous church leaders on my writings, including the pope, some cardinals, archbishops, bishops and pastors. I've also asked some of them to act as my spiritual director. So Anonymous, this further indicates that your accusation is inaccurate. Thank you for investing your time to read my blog.

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  8. Ewe are so right...you hit the nail on the head with this! So many of the examples that you cited have actually happened to me and my co-workers. I was employed by my parish for the past 11 years as business office administrator. One and a half years ago I filed a grievance with my diocese against our parish administrator (a deacon) and business manager for bullying, intimidation and retaliation and named the pastor as having knowledge of it and allowing it. Per my employee handbook, I was assured that there would be no retaliation taken against me for my complaint. After filing my complaint, for the past year and a half, I was subjected to isolation, false rumors, and administrative penalties, just to name a few. Just 2 weeks ago my job was eliminated under the guise of "restructuring the business office." I was a long time employee with ten years of excellent evaluations, well-like by co-workers, volunteers, and parishioners alike. Even the way I was informed about my job being eliminated was blatant bullying and harassment. How do you continue to move forward as a member of the Catholic Church when you know this is happening? After seeing what goes on behind the scenes and seeing how clergy are allowed to hide behind "their collar" or Canon Law, I have great difficulty continuing to worship in the Catholic Church. My faith in God and Jesus Christ is as strong as ever. I know Catholicism is more than just the clergy, but I have great difficulty viewing Catholicism other than by the men who are in these roles of leadership, who are allowed to abuse their power to harass, bully, and intimidate anyone who does not submit to their egos.

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  9. "Church governance" is almost an oxymoron. Even if you cite the Canon laws broken, bishops often don't take effective corrective actions. The only escalation above bishops is the Vatican, often unresponsive. Maybe this is why some people turn to secular courts.

    Naming the behavior and openly discussing it helps. It may give others the vocabulary and courage to name and share what they are experiencine. Silence enables abuse.

    Unless one's paycheck or ministry is tied to the church, the clergy have no real power. In your case, the clergy had the power of your paycheck and I'm sorry you lost your job. Sadly, unjust treatment by the church as an employer is common.

    I was bulled from doing volunteer ministry. It was very troubling because I hoped church people didn't behave that way. But, I learned it's actually a common mode of operation. The pervasiveness of bullying in the culture offers little consolation, though.

    I stayed in my parish because a) most people in the parish value me; the bullies are a small minority who harbor delusions of power b) I don't cede power to bullies. c) the Creed doesn't say I believe in the hierarchy or clergy

    Some coping mechanisms (application varies depending upon circumstances):
    1. Name the bullying.
    2. Document the bullying and request it stop; Send to all the bullies; copy the bishop. In some cases publish more broadly.
    3. Read books during the homily when the hypocrisy between priest's words and actions are unbearable (or is uninspiring).
    4. Redirect financial contributions to organizations that accept your time, talent, treasure and whole person - not just your treasure (and that better espouse gospel principles). Send the pastor a letter explaining your actions and copy the bishop.
    5. Write letters to your bishop regularly (citing how Ignatius of Antioch instructs people to stay close to their bishop). Worst case you get a condescending response but if you expect it, it doesn't faze you.
    6. Stay factual versus emotional.
    7. Go to confession, to the priest who did this and say, "bless me father for I have sinned...I'm really struggling to have a Christian response to being bullied by you and your staff..." This is a sincere use of the sacrament because you probably are struggling.
    8. Don't whine or gossip. Rather, be concrete and specific when speaking of the bullying and air examples at appropriate times unemotionally).
    9. Participate in parish activities, especially formation activities, and candidly use the bullying examples as food for thought (versus venting or a personal therapy venue). You might get bullied but you may learn that most people are unaware of the bullying, and agree that this behavior is unacceptable (not to mention contradicts the gospel). Ask the group - what should we do when these things happen? Move from making people aware to engaging them in problem solving.
    10. Shift from participating in inwardly focused ministries (liturgical ministries, R.E., etc..) to outwardly focused ministries (like working with the poor, or homebound) and perhaps ones not sponsored by the parish.

    Not knowing your employment situation, I don't know if you can shift into the secular realm. But, you may find secular organizations embrace gospel values as an employer better than the church.

    I taught R.E. and adult formation. I found another outlet (this blog) and went from reaching a few dozen people every year to having over 20,000 visitors from over 90 countries to this blog. I hope you find some other outlet too.

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  10. Thank you! Your response will indeed help me cope with my situation.

    There are so many people in the parish: co-workers, volunteers, and parishioners who are extremely upset - and angry - over my termination. They feel it was wrong and inhumane, the way may job was eliminated. Most people do not know that this was a case of retaliation and that I had filed a grievance. I am now inclined to let as many people know as possible about the bullying, harassment, and retaliation. How do I engage others in problem solving?

    I will be moving into the secular realm most definitely. After my experience, I will not be working at another Catholic church!

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  11. Is there any other information available on the Internet about non-sexual verbal abuse, bullying, and other demeaning behaviors within the Catholic Church? Have any studies been done about how these reports have been dealt with?

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  12. There is a 1991 publication describing codependency and the church. Specifically it talks about the prevalence of co-dependency in people who go into ministry. That seems to tie to the whole bully questions. Here is a link to that document. http://shalomplace.com/view/codep-lite.pdf


    I referred to that document when I wrote a blog article on codependency and the church. http://questionsfromaewe.blogspot.com/2011/08/codependency-and-church.html

    Other than that, you might want to search on bullying and the church.

    I think such a study would be very valuable and eye-opening.

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  13. Perhaps an Internet search of newspaper reports by this questionner as to when a parish, diocese or other church institutions were alleged to have violated US labor laws & standards & formal complaints were made would give a sense of how pervasive such practices are...

    Comparision of what Church encyclicals on labor relations with employers teach compared to the behavior exhibited in the above articles might also be instructive.

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  14. Thanks for the suggestions. I have done some searches about violations but there are a few things to consider. 1) I experienced this treatment as a volunteer so there's no recourse via US labor laws, 2) the courts have declared that church employees are "ministers" and therefore the church is often exempt from following US labor laws, 3) many people who are wronged by the church feel they "shouldn't" sue the church.

    Here's an example of the church arguing that the 1st Amendment protects them from following US Labor laws. http://www.ocala.com/article/20080206/NEWS/802060325

    Here's one where the person is suing due to being defamed in character, but this is rare because people don't want the expense or hassle to clear their name. http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/12/15/4487764/barred-volunteers-lawsuit-claims.html

    Some other suits:
    http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/11/transgender-teacher-sues-catholic-prep-school-for-alleged-discrimination/

    http://www.abc22now.com/shared/news/top-stories/stories/wkef_kettering-teacher-sues-catholic-church-pregnancy-firing-10731.shtml?wap=0

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/26/us/indiana-in-vitro-lawsuit

    http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20120424/LOCAL03/120429757


    An article about "ministerial exception" ruling from the Supreme Court that advises churches how to qualify for it: http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/resources-1434.html

    Another article about the "ministerial exception" Supreme Court Ruling http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/supreme-court-upholds-religious-exemption-to-employment-discrimination-laws/

    A blog article bullying in defense of the church's "right" to bully. http://www.lisagraas.com/blog/archives/5089

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