The Office of Public Affairs at University of Texas Health Northeast in Tyler, Texas, has stopped sending system-wide email invitations to employees to participate in bible study events at the Hurst Chapel after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A concerned employee contacted FFRF to report that the emails were signed “From the Office of Public Affairs.” In contrast to the bible study invitations, a system-wide email that promoted a Weight Watchers meeting contained the disclaimer, “This program is not in any way supported, endorsed, or managed by UT Health Northeast, other than allowing the meetings to take place on campus as a convenience to our staff. Participation in the program is entirely voluntary.”
It was additionally reported that the employees were invited to attend these bible study sessions in lieu of performing their normal job duties during work hours.
On Sept. 4, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter explaining why promotion of these study events is discriminatory and unconstitutional:
“While it may be standard practice in some hospitals to offer patients and their families access to a nondenominational chaplain for spiritual counseling, there is no reasonable justification for a public university-affiliated hospital to provide its employees with access to worship services during the workday. . . Calling upon staff to attend religious worship services is coercive and beyond the scope of a state-run hospital. Employees are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way.”
On Sept. 24, FFRF received word from the complainant that “Chapel services are still going on every week, but the emails promoting them have stopped.”