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Worker Claims He Was Fired for a Baptism

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The National Park Service fired a maintenance man for baptizing someone in the Pacific Ocean and wouldn't let him read the Bible on his lunch breaks, the man claims in court.

Roger Holly sued the Department of the Interior and his supervisors on constitutional grounds Monday in Federal Court.

Holly, a Baptist minister and former maintenance worker at the Maritime National Historic Park in San Francisco, says he baptized a park visitor during his lunch break on Nov. 23, 2013.

He says he was out of uniform at the time and simply helped dunk the visitor into the ocean.

"The religious 'ceremony' Holly performed did not include any outward, objective display of religion, such as reading sacred texts, public prayer, sermonizing or the like," the complaint states. "It simply appeared that two persons were swimming in the ocean, much like other park visitors."

Holly says no other members of the public were involved or raised an issue about the baptism. He claims that one of his former coworkers, a Native American woman, is allowed to display spiritually symbolic feathers in her Park Service vehicle, but his supervisor, defendant Robert Kier, interrogated him about the baptism.

Holly says Kier questioned him "extensively" about his religion and asked him "intrusive" questions about his faith and whether he would baptize anyone again. He says he assured Kier he would never baptize someone while on the clock or in his Park Service uniform.

Holly also told Kier, according to the complaint: "If you're asking me would I do it under other circumstances, I'm a minister of the Gospel and there's a wide ocean out there, what do you think I would do?"

He says he got a letter of proposed termination on March 10, 2014, then months later, a final agency decision that he was fired for performing a baptism in the park.

"The final agency decision further noted defendant Kier's testimony that 'he discussed with complainant the inappropriateness of it [talking to people that needed or wanted Jesus] because religious matters are to remain one's personal domain," the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)

Before the baptism, says Holly, who is black, he had complained to his bosses about racial discrimination. He says he'd asked a park visitor to move an illegally parked car so he could finish blowing leaves, and the visitor cursed him and ran over his foot.

Holly says he was reprimanded for being "aggressive." He claims that "the letter of counseling reflected a form of racial stereotyping as an overly and inappropriately aggressive black man, and that he ought to act more docile and subservient, and not talk to visitors, even where he was simply performing his position."

He also claims he was not allowed to invite people into the maintenance shop because of his race, though other employees were allowed to bring family and friends inside.

"Other NPS employees who are white, not African American, give their family members and even pets rides in the park service cart, and permit family members to be present in the shop, and are not issued any warnings or discipline as a result," the complaint states.

And he claims he was told he could not "display" a Bible he read during his breaks, though other employees were not questioned about their reading material.

He seeks lost wages, an injunction, and damages for pain and suffering.

He is represented by Alan J. Reinach with the Church State Council, of Westlake Village.

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