Office Depot has apologized to a Chicago woman who claims the company refused to print a flier for her last month due to its religious content. But last week’s apology did not rule out the potential for future discrimination.
Maria Goldstein, 42, created a flier for her Catholic parish’s participation in the national prayer campaign coordinated by Priests for Life. The weeklong event called for prayer and fasting on behalf of the unborn and for the “conversion” and “enlightenment” of those who work at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
The flier, titled “Quick Facts on Planned Parenthood,” featured two columns. One displayed statistics from Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report. The other column featured a prayer credited to Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, that included strong language directed at “the evil of the abortion industry” and the “corruption” of Planned Parenthood.
“Close the doors of the death camps in our midst, and open the doors of your mercy and healing!” the prayer read. “Close the grisly trade in baby body parts. And open the abundant gifts of your salvation and life!”
The prayer asked God to “bring an end to the killing of children in the womb” and for “mercy on those who teach others to reject parenthood.”
On Aug. 20, Goldstein used Office Depot’s online ordering system to request 500 copies of the flier at the store in Schaumburg, a northwestern suburb of Chicago. But a store employee told Goldstein the order was “restricted by corporate policy” and would not be filled. The employee would not say what policy the flier violated but told Goldstein she could come to the store and print it herself on the self-help printer. Goldstein told me she turned down the offer because she had no working printer at home to make an original version.
Goldstein called the corporate customer service hotline to complain, but a customer service representative concurred with the store, stating the flier was against “corporate policy.” The representative offered no explanation as to why. Several calls to Roland Smith, Office Depot’s chairman, went unreturned until Goldstein left a message saying she had retained legal counsel.
On Sept. 1, company representative Diane Demma told Goldstein “if it makes employees feel uncomfortable they don’t have to print something.” She also stated the company was “working on a policy” for situations like this, according Goldstein’s attorney.
In a letter to Smith dated Sept. 10, Thomas More Society attorney Thomas Olp claimed the store violated the public accommodations section of Cook County’s human rights ordinance and demanded the company print the flyer. The law states all businesses offering services to the public cannot refuse service due to the customer’s religion.
In a public letter issued the next day, Robert Amicone, general counsel for Office Depot, emphatically defended the company’s decision not to print the flier, claiming it violated two Office Depot policies: prohibitions on copying “graphic material” and “hate material.”
Amicone’s letter cited the phrases “killing of children in the womb” and “the grisly trade in baby body parts” as too graphic to print. In addition, the letter said language condemning those who perform abortions as “evil” and advocating for the closing of “death camps in our midst” is hate speech that “advocates for the persecution of groups of people.”
Goldstein told me she thinks Amicone doesn’t understand the purpose of prayer.
“Prayer is always for the benefit of someone, never against them,” she said. “This [prayer] was for conversion and enlightenment, not persecution. This mischaracterization of the pro-life movement as an angry, persecuting group just isn’t true.”
On the day Office Depot released its explanation, public sentiment turned in Goldstein’s favor. Before noon on Sept. 11, Goldstein said her nephew called to tell her she was trending on Facebook, with even pro-abortion advocates decrying Office Depot’s decision.
“There were comments like, ‘I support Planned Parenthood, but Office Depot should not have done this.’ And, ‘I’m not a Christian, but this is wrong.’ I was floored by the reaction of so many different types of people,” she said.
Before the end of the day, Office Depot had reversed its decision and issued an apology—but not without a caveat.
“We sincerely apologize to Ms. Goldstein for her experience and our initial reaction was not at all related to her religious beliefs. We invite her to return to Office Depot if she still wishes to print the flyer,” Smith said in the release.
But he ended his statement by noting the company will continue to have policies that guide the “refusal” to print material that is graphic or advocates persecuting people, “regardless of the reason.”
“They apologized for ‘the experience,’” Goldstein said, “But they left the door open to do this again. This is worrisome for all religions. Prayer cannot be perceived as hate speech.”