WRITTEN STATEMENT BY JUDITH LYN WHITTINGTON
Several years before becoming involved with the issue of religious freedom outside the work place between myself and the Department of Human Services of the State of Oklahoma, I had been very much involved with the single parent ministry of my church, First Baptish Church of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I was also involved with a Bible study which was held in my home once a week. This Bible study group and the single parent ministry was not only an opportunity to witness to these parents and children but also to give them encouragement and to meet any of their needs that was within my resources to do. I felt this was a very much needed ministry in a time of crisis for many of these single parent families. I had become very close to many of them as we attended Church together as well as many functions within the Church ministries. Most of these single parent families were attending College or unemployed and were on a limited budget.
As a Social Worker for the Department of Human Services with the State of Oklahoma, I would often refer these parents for services/programs offered by the Department of Human Services. I would not be involved in their cases at work and as a rule unless they had specific questions, the subject of 'welfare assistance' didn't arise. It is very important to observe the Privacy Act when dealing with persons and business.
The conflict between the Department of Human Services and myself began when I gave a member of our Church a ride across town at her request. She asked me to take her baby which was 6 months old to a family which she had lived with for the past year to spend the night until she could find a place to stay. She had been on the streets until this family had taken her in when she was pregnant. I did as she ask which was on a Sunday afternoon and thought nothing of it.
Later in the week the Department of Human Services began a full investigation on me for violating DHS policy concerning clients and our relationship to them. I was cited for misconduct, violatiing this young woman's civil rights and client contact after work hours. I was put in a position of having to retain an attorney to avoid termination or severe adverse discipline which would have lead to termination. I was told by DHS Management staff that I could not have any contact with any DHS client with the State of Oklahoma after hours, even with programs/services of my Church.
I questioned DHS specifically about the Bible Study and the Single Parent Minsitry and was told that clients of DHS could attend .the Bible Student but that I would have to make it clear to every one that I was not representing DHS and I could not do any counseling with any DHS client at my Church as that is included in my job description and it would be against DHS policy. These activities within my Church and its member were all done after office hours.
I was also told that I would have too inquire if a person was on DHS services prior to assisting them and if they were not that I could participate in the ministry of non-DHS clients. There seemed to be a conflict of statements as we must as employees of a public service department abide by the Privacy Act but yet I was instructed to ask if persons were on assitance prior to assisting them or witnessing to them as a Believer in the Great Commission. I finally gave up any participation in any organized ministry within my Church due to the frustration and fear of loosing my employment. I also am a single mother and know the value of employment.
During the 20 years it took to resolve the issue of 'freedom of religion' after work hours, I experienced much ridicule, retailiation, and unbearable rejection by my co-workers, Church members and the community who had been given incorrect information about the situation. Threats were made concerning my future employment with DHS, my sanity was questioned, as well as my right to due process outlined by DHS policy concerning the Grievence Procedures. Every stumbling block and wall that could be thought of was erected to try to prevent a resolution to this most important issue, which is freedom to practice our faith and religion after work hours regardless of our social or economical status or employment.
I am a social worker at heart, day and night. This has been my employment and ministry for many years and will be for years to come. Our Constitution was founded on equality and the belief in GOD but due to the complexity of our society, we need a more specific amendment to the Constitution addressing 'freedom of religion' in relation to our employment and education. As Citizens of the United States, we should be able to share our faith and religion with anyone to ask.
Thank you for inviting me to participate in this most honored event. I will cherish this experience for the rest of my life.