Outrage: Alaska’s Human Rights Commission Drives Christian Store Owner Out-of-Business for Religious Discussions with Employees

Alaska’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), a government agency established to enforce the state’s human rights laws, recently heard a case involving Paul Kopf, the owner of Goldstream General Store in Fairbanks. A former employee, Lynn Dowler, alleged that she was forced to quit because she found the owner’s religious talk too offensive to handle. The HRC determined that Mr. Kopf had discriminated against his employee by speaking openly about his religious views and imposed a $75,000 fine against him.

When I first heard about this ruling several days ago, I was upset. So I sought out Mr. Kopf’s attorney in Fairbanks, Tom Wickwire. After talking to Mr. Wickwire yesterday, I became incensed.

Here’s what Mr. Wickwire told me really happened in the case:

Paul Kopf [also] hired employee Lynn Dowler’s daughter, knowing she was a lesbian. While the daughter worked for Kopf, she went through a very unhappy and stressful break-up of a relationship. It affected her job performance and absenteeism so much that Lynn Dowler recommended, or suggested that Kopf fire her daughter. He didn’t. Instead he kept her on, allowing her time to work through her emotional crisis. This showed compassion and sympathy for an employee with a lifestyle that many do not accept. Kopf also had several other employees who, I will say, lived on the fringes, if not outside of, mainstream society.

This “tolerance” made one of Ms. Dowler’s other allegations, that Mr. Kopf was vehemently intolerant of Catholics, even less believable. Mr. Wickwire continued:

While Dowler was in the hearing trying her best to convince the Admin law Judge that she had reached the point of not being able to take Kopf’s religious talk any longer, it became clear that she had never complained to Kopf that some of his talk was offensive, in fact had never told him she was Catholic. But in the hearing, [she] complained that Kopf was harshly critical of Catholics.

There is clearly established law in other areas that an employee who feels subjected to a hostile work environment has a duty to tell the boss what she finds offensive, so the boss knows and has a chance to stop before getting sued. I briefed this law to the Human Rights Commission and they apparently ignored it.

To make matters worse, after Ms. Dowler quit, she later submitted a list of grievances to Mr. Kopf. This list contained no complaint about religious talk. But the grievance list that was later submitted to the HRC was apparently altered to include a religious discrimination claim. Why? Mr. Wickwire stated that, “for Dowler to have a winnable case, she had to prove she quit because of religious discrimination.” He believes that she added the religious allegation “to the list when she learned, probably from talking to the Human Rights Commission after she quit , that this was the only way they would take her case on.”

Mr. Wickwire concludes:

It was disappointing that the Human Rights Commission did not realize that the First Amendment is what protects the right of a private business owner on his own property in speaking his mind. This right, and its limits, seems particularly important when our nation has embarked on a debate about Mormonism and what would it mean to have a Mormon President. We should not punish people for expressing their religious beliefs, including doubts or criticisms of other religions. The US Supreme Court has said in many First Amendment decisions that free, open vigorous debate of conflicting viewpoints is the surest and safest way to expose unworthy ideas and have the best ones gain acceptance. This case, and the HRC’s handling of it has set us back.

What was accomplished here?

Kopf is broke. His belief in America as a country that values differing religions and encourage lively religious debate is much shaken. If the HRC is right, it has taught Kopf that he can think what he wants but had better not talk about his faith.

An employer who had shown himself willing to hire people who were otherwise not likely to get decent paying jobs, is run out of business.

The Right of individuals to speak about their faith on their own property freely, without fear of persecution is now in question, at least in Alaska.

  • Human Rights Commission? Just as Planned Parenthood, they use deceitful names to disguise their dark intentions. Both organizations should be nullified, driven out, dissappeared in one word.

  • marineh2ominer

    Obviously , there IS no human rights commission in Alaska , only a progressive politically correct commission . I vote we improve the entire United Staes by giving Kalifornicate to Mexico and the land of the midnite gays to Russia , maybe we could sweeten the deal by throwing in Oregan and their ” water ” .

    • R B

      Which state is ” the land of the midnight gays” ? -Alaska ? I’ve never heard that term.

  • ghastly1

    Wait till the “Political Rights” commission is formed. (or has it been?) Then PC will be the law of the land.

  • Can this be appealed, or taken to a higher court?
    This is a blatant violation of the first amendment.

  • cooganalaska

    Yeh Brandon this can be appealed just like anything can be appealed. But in the end its about how much money one has to buy his justice. In this country, justice is bought and paid for with cash. Unless, of course, you are poor and then John Q. Idiot pays for your legal costs.

  • Why does anyone pay any attention to such rulings and laws? They are void on their face when they so blatantly conflict with the Constitution.

  • tundrabear

    I’m in front of them right now and they are trying to pin something on me too. I had a disgruntled employee who was caught stealing so one day she said she was leaving so I told her that I accept her resignation. This person went to the HRC and told them that I said, and I quote, ” After I repeatedly rebuffed the owner’s advances her terminated my employment on January 26th, 2012, saying that if I had accepted his advances I would still Be employed.” This while I was in another state with a female friend who actually witnesses the call which was made at my friends request where all I said was and I quote, “I accept your resignation.” and hung up the phone. From that moment on, my friend took all of that employees calls. The three toads that are blackmailing me into signing a confession, (I will not sign) are Louri Owen, Paula Haley, and Patricia A. Watts and are now trying to dismiss, using verbal criminal against me in their dismissal. See I have the email that the employee sent me, bragging about having all the employee files and offices which she had now hid someplace. Each employee file contains colored copies of their Social Security card, drivers license, complete work history, address full name, and contract they were working under. Even all the banking information including account numbers for those who were receiving direct deposit of their payroll check. There is some 30 employees she has all their IDENTIFICATION of and the troopers would not even charge this employee. HRC wants to hang me as a criminal sex offender of employees. Do you think your IDs are safe? If you are a man, all a woman has to do is point and the HRC criminalizes you, without evidence, and in this case, HRC even could not prove 3 of the 4 claims and they stated this in there DETERMINATION. The 4th I have much evidence showing there wrong and they still want me criminalized. All True…….and there is lots more.

  • IdealLaw

    Maybe some of you clowns (miller included) should try reading the actual hearing report and ruling instead of just what you like to imagine happened.

    Oh, wait – that would screw up your world view by bring facts into the matter.