by Katherine Maria Pinner
“What does God want?” Over the course of my life thus far, I have learned both wisely by asking this question and foolishly by not asking this question that it is the most important question one can ask.
In late July 2021, my back was against the proverbial wall. My employer, personally and directly, issued a “mandate” and an “ultimatum” specifically to me, demanding absolute unquestioned compliance. At that time, I had already filed five separate requests for exemption. The events leading up to that moment were difficult. Now the stakes were the highest: violate my religion and compromise my health per their mandate / ultimatum, or uphold my religion, strongly / sincerely held religious belief and health.
I was getting down on my hands and knees regularly during this time to seek God’s guidance, but the ultimatum drove me to tears, the likes of which I have never experienced. This decision of whether to comply with the employer’s ultimatum or whether to uphold my religion, would permanently and irrevocably impact, not just my physical life now and in the future, not just my financial livelihood now and in the future, but my everlasting, immortal life.
Down on my hands and knees with tears falling from my eyes, I prayed for God’s help and mercy. I asked God for counsel and guidance.
“Please, God, help me.” I don’t know how long I was down there. Time didn’t seem to matter. The world around me didn’t seem to matter. It was just God and me in quiet consultation. “God, what do you want me to do?” I waited. I prayed. Eventually, the answer came. It came, not in a burning bush, but in a warm gentle whisper from deep down in my core that permeated my entire being. Everything in my body, mind, and spirit aligned at that moment. I knew what God wanted. I knew what was right, and, therefore, I knew what I needed to do. “Thank you, God. Thank you.”
A little bit about my story. I am Croatian. My father came to this country as a young Croatian man when he was twenty-four years old. Having escaped communism and the tyranny that invaded his homeland after World War II (what was called “Yugoslavia” at that time), he came to this country seeking a better life for himself and his future family. He did this without any money, without speaking the language, and with a warrant out for his death. The communists punished you for your religion, and he was the target of religious persecution. His cousin, a Catholic priest, was forced out of his homeland and into Italy because the religious were being murdered at the directive of a communist dictator.
Bad as that situation was and as documented in my father’s published biographies “Midnight Train” and “Liberté,” this was not the first time Croatians confronted tyranny and religious persecution. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire ravaged our country of Croatia, as well as our Croatian people. The soldiers, holding a sword up to the throat of their intended victim, would issue an ultimatum: “convert, or die.” If the defenseless Croatian did not forsake their religion and strongly / sincerely held religious belief, the soldier would sever their head from their body. Our Croatian ancestors witnessed this murderous punishment regularly, and yet, with even more vigor and conviction, defended their faith amidst invaders whose sole purpose was mass conversion or mass genocide, all on Croatian soil.
Amidst this constant turmoil, my ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s sides asked the question frequently over many centuries: “What does God want?” They did not just ask the question on their hands and knees with tears in their eyes, they were ready to defend their religion and strongly / sincerely held religious beliefs to the grave. My father, knowing what our ancestors endured and having confronted this persecution firsthand, crossed an ocean under threat of death seeking religious freedom and a better life.
In summary, “No” was my response to the employer. “No, I will not forsake my religion and strongly / sincerely held religious belief and health even as you issue a mandate and ultimatum.” “The mandate / ultimatum I am obligated to follow comes from GOD.”
The Long and Rocky Road
Thus began the long and rocky road of pursuing justice, first with a Commission (either the State Commission or the EEOC, where all such cases are required by law to begin) which, for example, could not even seem to get my gender and religion correct, much less the charges and proper wording for the claim and whose decisions, I was personally informed, are made by a single “Director” who does not hold a JD; next, with the process of seeking out every Constitutional, First Amendment, special interest, state, employment, specialty, and celebrity attorney in the country, which, having listened to every excuse in the book (mostly around money and reputation and fear of being disbarred), ended in disappointment and rejection; then, with the arduous task of filing and pursuing a lawsuit Pro Se (self-represented) without any interest, education, or experience in the law whatsoever, pursing the equivalent of a law degree on my own over the course of many exhaustive months under threat of having to pay the other party’s legal fees if I should happen to lose and while having to figure out how I was going to pay my own bills and cover my own expenses; and then, working on the matter for the past eighteen months as I, a private unrepresented citizen, work to navigate a complex legal system against an entire international association comprised of thousands of members that has at its disposal legal and HR resources, two professional licensed attorneys on retainer, and one of the largest most reputable firms of twelve partners in the state working against my case as I move a case forward to uphold my rights under the Constitution of the United States of America and Title VII.
The number of hours I alone have personally expended regarding the question over one’s certain, unalienable, SACRED right to the inside of one’s own body (respiratory system, immune system, and conscience) is astounding. I never anticipated I would have to do this in the United States of America, and yet, here we are. This was, after all, the very reason my father left his homeland to immigrate to the United States in the first place and here I am, his daughter, once again standing to uphold my right to my religion and strongly / sincerely held religious beliefs.
Because of the employer’s actions, I have had to forgo my professional career and have had to sacrifice large portions of my livelihood. I have sacrificed a great deal of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness over the past eighteen months and counting, and there is still no court date or hearing scheduled.
That said, I can think of nothing more important. What could be more important? What do I have if I do not have my religion and health? If I lose those, I have nothing. Nothing else matters, and, therefore, it is my God-given obligation to persist, just as it was my family’s God-given obligation to persist over the course of many centuries, as they stood up to persecution and even death to uphold our religion and strongly / sincerely held religious beliefs.
We Are Not Alone
Sometimes I feel alone on this long, rocky, uncertain journey, but I remind myself regularly that being alone is only an illusion. Deuteronomy 31:6 says: “Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the Lord, your God who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you.”
God is with us, and I am so grateful to connect with people with different stories. Because of this, I am never truly alone. We are the silent majority, and that majority is starting to wake up. We are getting into the courtroom, participating in the school board, speaking in front of legislators, and moving into areas of influence. IHC has worked on several bills that will advance pending litigation and legislation. These are victories, and there is hope.
The Way Forward
According to the court schedule and the manner of lawyers in today’s judicial climate, this case could take an additional 12 to 24 months after a schedule is set. It is hard to imagine, having already spent eighteen months in this pursuit, but the possibility of three and a half years to four years to address a simple Constitutional question in the United States of America is the reality of the system.
In the meantime, the daily sacrifice is real, and the outcome of the case is uncertain. I continue to ask God for direction and for the courage to take right action. Rosa Parks once said: “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” How do we know if what we are doing is right? “What does God want?” It’s a simple question, but the answer in my case and so many others like mine, involves sacrifice, sacrifice like what my ancestors and my father had to endure, sacrifice like changing careers or making less money, sacrifice like what many members of groups like IHC recognize and endure firsthand. Sacrifice is not easy, but then again when has anyone stood up to a bully or done what is right when it is against the mob or gone out in pursuit of justice with the reality of death or starvation confronting them, and called it easy?
It takes courage. It takes stamina. It takes moxy. It takes risk. And more than any of these, it takes strong focus on the one true thing that truly matters in this world and in the next: “What does God want?”
About the Contributor Katherine Maria Pinner is an author and innovation consultant. She is the daughter of Croatian parents, Mirko and Sylvia Coric. She is a resident of Saint Louis, Missouri where she was born, and holds numerous professional certifications in her field. Her greatest passions are for speaking, writing, education, and the environment. For more information on the biographies “Midnight Train” and “Liberté,” or to sign up for updates on this lawsuit, go to www.kmpinner.com/books