A Rolling Meadows woman has accused Office Depot of discriminating against her Roman Catholic faith after employees told her running copies of an anti-abortion prayer violated company policy.
Last month, Maria Goldstein, 42, ordered 500 copies of “A Prayer for the Conversion of Planned Parenthood” at an Office Depot in Schaumburg to distribute at her parish the following Sunday. The handout also included statistics about abortion in the U.S. and at Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides women’s and reproductive health services.
The prayer, composed by the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, an anti-abortion group, calls on God to “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.”
The prayer also decries “the evil that has been exposed in Planned Parenthood and in the entire abortion industry.”
Karen Denning, a spokeswoman for Office Depot, said company policy prohibits “the copying of any type of material that advocates any form of racial or religious discrimination or the persecution of certain groups of people. It also prohibits copying any type of copyrighted material.”
“The flier contained material that advocates the persecution of people who support abortion rights,” Denning said.
But Goldstein said the goal of the weeklong prayer and fasting campaign that took place last month was not to persecute but to change hearts. The campaign came amid calls by politicians to end public funding for Planned Parenthood in response to hidden-camera videos by anti-abortion activists who accused the nonprofit organization of trafficking fetal tissue.
“The intention of the prayer is to ask for conversion,” Goldstein said. “The conversion of the staff, employees, everybody who is part of this at Planned Parenthood. It means they will recognize life has dignity and that it is valuable and not a commodity to be bought and sold.”
Denning said Goldstein was invited to use the self-serve copy machines. But Goldstein said that would have been an inconvenience. Instead she found a printing shop in Des Plaines to run her copies.
“I feel discriminated against,” she said.
Thomas Olp, a lawyer for the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a public interest law group that represents Goldstein, said the situation fits into the public accommodation laws that date back to when businesses refused to serve African-Americans and Jews.
“We’re a country of diversity. We don’t want to allow people to pick and choose based on their bigotry or hostility,” he said. “You need to offer services to the public on a fair and equal basis. This is an example of religious expression. Therefore the law prohibits you from discriminating.”
Olp acknowledges that religious freedom and public accommodation laws occasionally might be at odds. Several states are debating whether to pass laws protecting business owners such as bakers and photographers who object to same-sex weddings as a matter of conscience.
“It’s a different issue. You can make arguments on both sides,” he said. But a person’s religion always affords special protection, he said.