By Andersen, Martin Edwin
Insight on the News , Vol. 18, No. 5
William Cor, age 47, found that acting in the tradition of a well-prepared good Samaritan was just too much for his bosses at the nuclear-weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., where he had worked since 1998. Cor was the in-house, nuclear glove-box expert for a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor at the site. A glove box is used to handle hazardous atomic material or weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. By all accounts, Cor was good at his job -- maybe too good.
In early 2000, a mechanical failure in the lab involving one of the glove-box units exposed several workers to highly toxic plutonium. "I had expressed safety concerns prior to this, so I was kept out of the loop when DOE investigated. I later found that the report of the investigation was riddled with error," Cor recalls. "I tried to bring up my concerns again, at a time when the demands of my job had become very complicated by the urgent needs arising in the aftermath of the accident."
However, instead of addressing the issues Cor had raised, his managers unleashed a campaign of retaliation against him. His health declined (problems included stress-related internal bleeding) and his managers used his medical absences from work, together with his unwelcome safety warnings, to portray him as insubordinate. He was fired in early October 2001 after having worked without pay for three months.
"My faith played a part in my determination to speak out despite risks to my career," says Cor, an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. "More importantly to me, it is the security I find rooted in my religious convictions which largely sustain me in enduring discouraging circumstances resulting from expressing professional concerns."
Since the founding of the republic, constitutional principles concerning the separation of church and state have been debated in myriad contexts. In one instance, that of faith-based whistleblowers, religion apparently helps shape and inform their workplace dissent, allowing them to make positive contributions to the general welfare through example rather than overt proselytizing.
Most whistle-blowers risk their professional careers, as well as friendships and family, when they decide to come forward in the public interest to disclose waste, fraud and abuse of power in the workplace. For those without a firm religious grounding, the fall from public grace can be particularly hard since security and success at work tend to be two of their most important psychological safety nets.
For many faith-based whistle-blowers, however, religion provides not only solace and staying power but also the necessary context in which to make their principled dissent and then endure misperceptions of themselves as malcontents and nitpickers motivated by attention-seeking. Despite the risks, their whistle-blowing becomes part of a tradition of showing individual responsibility and concern for others. It also allows them to live up to the Judeo-Christian idea of bearing witness. Whistle-blowing forces practitioners to confront bad behavior in terms that reflect their own efforts to live as moral and ethical people.
Faith-based whistle-blowers, says Myron Peretz Glazer, a tenured sociology professor at Smith College in central Massachusetts and coauthor of Whistle-blowers: Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry, have "a sustaining belief, one that allows them to say, `Here I stand, I can do no other.'"
Although the awful price exacted on many whistle-blowers often makes their experience a study in martyrdom, faith-based whistle-blowers interpret what they are going through in a different manner, Glazer reports. Often, religiously observant people join government service because they look forward to holding positions of trust that should require higher standards of ethics, he says. "And it is precisely their keen sense of responsibility that allows them to feel that the price they pay for becoming whistle-blowers is what is required of them to be faithful to what is most important to them -- their own deep-seated convictions" he says. …