Christian fireman who ignored 2 of 10 commandments fired over emails

Daily I receive daily emails from groups whose work is valuable for sifting the Internet to bring me stories touching on Christianity, law and culture. But often the onslaught dazzles and depresses me. The volume is great, my sense of discouragement rendered more intense; I have too many things to think about, perhaps react to.

Another effect of the headline onslaught is that I feel hopelessly out of date. What’s wrong with me? I am so irrelevant that I care little for the Romney-Obama race and other urgencies in the news. My interest in Christian reformation and apologetics seems either like a wild fancy or a bit of droning-on by a pedant.

The story about the firing of the firefighter in Washington state will help explain why the news of buzz in many instances should be ignored. The headline: “Fire Captain Fired over Religious Emails.” My first instinct is to simply react: One more outrage! More Christians being persecuted for their faith!

But the facts go quite in a different direction. The content of the original story, published by a newspaper and picked up by two other websites before it came to me, lets me reject the giddy element in the story.

A Christian fire captain in Spokane, Wash., was canned because he continued to send religious emails from his department account despite numerous directives to stop. Capt. Jon Sprague had been warned repeatedly to not use the account for his personal messages. Sending the email was a private use of the department’s resources, and not allowed. “This is a private purpose,” department attorney Mike McMahon was quoted as saying. “While this is about religion. It really isn’t about religion. It’s about following orders.”

The commandments’ simple claims

The issue of whether the fire department is wrong to fire Mr. Sprague is settled by the eighth commandment, which says “Thou shalt not steal,” and the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

The fifth commandment regulates relations among superior, equals and inferiors, with the superior styled father and mother. The eighth commandment ordains private property and shields it from lawless use and theft.

The fire department uses a city-owned and taxpayer-funded email system. That system is the property of the department. Mr. Sprague, while on the clock and on the premises, has authority to use his department email account for department business and innocuous personal notes to his wife about the shopping run after the day’s work. These latter are generally considered incidental to the use of such a system. Such uses are innocuous and inconspicuous.

But the owner has authority to make that judgment, and declare to his staff his rules. And as employees are legally servants, they are obliged to obey.

If any communication goes beyond what his superiors would allow, an employee must agree to use some other account for these questionable messages. If his boss asks him to stop any form of communication on his account, Mr. Sprague must respect the property right of the city in the email account, and not use it privately. He is always free to go to a privately held account such as Gmail or Hotmail, or sign into his home account via the Internet.


The Spokesman Review,