When Sonny Perdue was confirmed as the new Secretary of Agriculture last week, he was undoubtedly stepping into a big role with nearly 100,000 employees and a $155 billion budget.
But Sec. Perdue has an opportunity to defend the constitutional liberties of USDA employees and the businesses they oversee right away. And he need look no further than a family-owned meatpacking business in western Michigan.
After the 2015 Supreme Court decision that redefined marriage, West Michigan Beef Company’s owner Don Vander Boon noticed a number of articles in his company’s breakroom celebrating same-sex marriage. He decided to offer a differing perspective. So, he added an article to the breakroom tables expressing the belief that marriage should be understood as the union of one man and one woman.
He didn’t remove articles supporting same-sex marriage from the table. He didn’t ask any of his employees to read the article he added. He just added a different viewpoint and walked away.
That was too much for the USDA. An on-site USDA inspector saw Don’s article, removed it from the breakroom table, and confronted Don about it. A USDA official threatened to remove the on-site inspectors from Don’s business if Don did not agree to keep the article out of the breakroom. This would essentially shut down West Michigan Beef Company since meatpacking businesses like Don’s cannot legally operate without an on-site USDA inspector.
You see, the USDA had recently issued a policy statement prohibiting written or oral communications that USDA officials consider “disrespectful” or “insult[ing]” on the basis of sexual orientation or political belief.
Apparently, expressing the longstanding religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman is no longer acceptable. Even more worrisome is the fact that government officials are using their overwhelming power to silence speech they don’t like.
We are a better, stronger country when we allow viewpoints other than those prevailing in our culture. We don’t have to agree, but we do need to uphold the right of every individual to speak freely and voice their beliefs without fearing government punishment.
Don filed a complaint with the USDA in 2015 regarding the suppression of his speech and religious exercise, but the USDA has failed to resolve the issue. Now Sec. Perdue has the opportunity to defend the constitutional principles of free speech and religious freedom as one of his first acts as the USDA Secretary. What better way to kick off his leadership of the USDA than to uphold the Constitution?
After all, everyone should be able to bring their beliefs to the table.
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