We are going to call an audible on the decision to publish a “series” of articles related to the decision by Broadlawns Medical Center to terminate its contract with Freedom Blend Coffee over Freedom for Youth’s “Statement of Faith.” We may as well just get everything to our readers in one spot as Facebook isn’t showing the articles to as many people as we’d like. Because of this, we will simply boost the post to get as many eyes as possible on this. There are a few ways you can help us do this:
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Freedom Blend Coffee is a ministry under the umbrella of Freedom for Youth Ministries. It works to empower young adults with work training and life skills that produce “development, restoration and hope.”
“Employment training is at the heart of our mission at Freedom Blend Coffee,” according to the group’s website. “We teach young adults, age 18-25, valuable customer service, food safety and hospitality skills along with life and career skills that empower them to enter the workplace more confident and more prepared for the challenges before them.”
Broadlawns Medical Center is a hospital in Des Moines owned by the people of Polk County. It is a governmental entity.
So, the two parties we’re talking about in this situation who entered into a contractual agreement include a ministry and a governmental entity.
And if you’re wondering, Broadlawns was well aware before entering into the agreement that Freedom Blend Coffee was a Christ-centered ministry.
How do we know this? Because an email dated Dec. 30, 2021 from Constance Rainey to Broadlawns CEO Anthony Coleman makes it clear:
The two parties entered into a contract that would continue for one year effective April 15, 2022.
“While the parties are entering this relationship with the hope and anticipation that this will be a long-term mutually beneficial relationship, this agreement may be unilaterally terminated by either party with 30 days written notice to the other party,” said one of the provisions of the contract.
That contract was signed on March 15, 2022. Five months later Broadlawns terminated the contract due to Freedom for Youth’s religious beliefs.
To put it another way — a government entity punished a ministry for its faith.
Here is how it happened…
Ministry’s statements contradict ‘core values’ of Broadlawns efforts on inclusivity
On July 28, 2022, an individual called Dr. Dylan Lowe sent a message to Broadlawns’ chief of diversity, equity and inclusion. This individual is called Renee Hardman. Lowe wrote he was a former resident at Broadlawns from 2017-20 and currently serves as PRN Emergency Department staff, as well as adjunct faculty to the residency program for inpatient rounds on weekends.
His wife, who is working on her certified diversity professional certification and works at the Food Bank of Iowa, was at Broadlawns when she noticed signs advertising Freedom Blend Coffee.
“Particularly, on their website they have statements under two separate sections including their ‘Statement of Belief on Marriage and Sexuality’ as well as ‘Statement of Belief on the Sanctity of Human Life’ that seem problematic to me as a physician who takes pride in caring for each individual patient regardless or (sic) race, religion, gender or sexuality. These statements also seem to contradict some of the core values of Broadlawns and their efforts on inclusivity.”
Hardman forwarded the email to Coleman, saying “wow.”
Coleman responded, “Here.we.go.”
A few days later, Hardman wrote to Coleman to alert him to concerns about the “values” of Freedom Blend Coffee. Hardman had Connie review Freedom Blend Coffee’s website, secure the contract for her review, the name of Freedom Blend’s CEO and a brief history of all what was done in securing them as a vendor.
Hardman wrote to Coleman:
“They do have very strong language against homosexuality and condemn marriage with anyone other than a man and a woman. Wow – this is in such contrast of your values and that of Broadlawns. I also have learned that this is not the first time a complaint was lodged against them and why would Broadlawns do business with them. I understand that Katie did not feel the complaint was with merit or it was someone blowing it out of proportion. I don’t have all the details of the situation. Tony, of course you know me – I don’t intend on doing anything without you and I engaging in a dialogue. Having said that, I do think it is a conversation worth having. DEI work is hard work and not convenient work. Right?”
A day later Hardman sent an email to Mike Wilwol and Richard Barrett, requesting a chance to visit about “a matter involving Freedom Blend Coffee.”
“Rick-I will be seeking your legal counsel and Mike, I will need you for the facility part of the discussion,” she wrote.
‘DEI’ work is not easy, this is the ‘RIGHT’ thing to do
Nearly two weeks passed before Hardman sent an email to Coleman regarding the partnership with Freedom Blend.
“Considering our discussion about Freedom Blend and in the event, you or I may be called to question regarding our decision – I wanted to provide you with a quick point of reference. Of the facts. You never know, we may get push back from places we didn’t anticipate.”
She went on to say, “thanks for your support. I feel strongly it is the RIGHT thing to do. DEI work is not easy.”
Hardman’s summary noted the agreement between Broadlawns and Freedom Blend Coffee allows for a 30-day out for any reason and that Broadlawns had received “a couple of concerns/complaints” about the relationship — particularly with its “enhanced commitment towards diversity/equity/inclusion.”
Hardman said she met with Mark Nelson, the executive director of Freedom Blend Coffee, on Aug. 1.
“Mark Nelson stood by the words in this Statement of Faith – but says he separates the ‘sin’ from the person. He states that these statements are their core values and part of their organization.”
Gov’t Entity Picks Apart Ministry’s ‘Statement of Faith’
From there Hardman singles out statements from the Statement of Faith that do not align with the values of Broadlawns:
“We believe that any form of sexual immorality – ‘including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bestiality conduct, incest or use of pornography is sinful and offensive.’
“We believe that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture (Gen. 2:18-25).
“We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.
“Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.”
As for next steps, Hardman said Coleman needed to be briefed of recommendations, the decision to terminate the partnership would need to be discussed with Nelson, the executive team would have to be briefed, an all-employee communication would need to be sent and the coffee vendor would have to be replaced.
Coleman told Hardman he agreed they are “doing the right thing.”
Hardman asked Coleman if he anticipated any “push back” from the Executive Leadership Team.
Hardman sent an updated version of her summary on Aug. 15.
“I don’t think folks should get a copy of this-but want Tony to be prepared,” she wrote. “In the event he may get any calls from anyone.”
CEO doesn’t want ‘as much detail’ in letter to Freedom Blend Coffee
From there it appears two letters were drafted with the intention of letting Nelson know Broadlawns would be terminating the agreement. And this is where it gets a little more interesting.
A version drafted by Hardman includes a more lengthy explanation to Nelson than the other. In Hardman’s version, she specifically states the contract is being terminated due to the organization’s “Statement of Faith.”
First, Hardman noted that Freedom Blend Coffee was providing a “high-quality coffee service experience.” And she added the staff had been “a pleasure to partner with.”
“Since entering this arrangement we have become aware of your organization’s ‘Statement of Faith’ which governs Freedom for Youth and the divisions within, which includes Freedom Blend. While we recognize you are entitled to espouse and promote your own value system, upon a comprehensive review; they do not align with our diversity, equity and inclusion strategies at Broadlawns.”
The letter goes on to state pursuant to provision 10 of the contract, Broadlawns is reserving the option to terminate it effective Sept. 14.
Here is the full version of the letter Hardman had drafted:
Remember Hardman sought Rick Barrett’s legal counsel. Barrett is an attorney and listed as Risk Management Director for Broadlawns online. His draft for Nelson was similar, but very different.
The version Barrett drafted failed to mention anything about terminating the contract due to Freedom Blend Coffee’s religious views.
Hardman sent both drafts to Coleman, who requested she “engage” Barrett.
“I am attaching both his letter for your review and the one that I felt we needed to put together,” she wrote. “Grant it, you may have some edits – but my hope is that it is a good DRAFT to work from.”
She finished with:
“Shanking my head……..”
So, which version did Nelson receive? The attorney’s, of course.
This means Nelson had nothing in writing explicitly stating the ministry’s contract with the governmental entity was being terminated based on the ministry’s religious beliefs.
That letter was sent to Nelson on Aug. 19. Hardman emailed it to Nelson, telling him she “appreciates” he understands the decision.
“Please know that I respect the position you are in and the right of your organization to adopt values that align with your ministries,” Hardman wrote. “As I shared with you before – we wish Freedom Blend Coffee all the very best in your future endeavors.”
‘We might not want to poke the sleeping bear’
The next document to work on was the all-staff communication regarding the termination. Hardman wrote Coleman, stating she had “struggled a bit” striking the right tone and content of the letter.
And here’s another little interesting nugget:
“Given that you did not want as much detail in the letter going to him (Nelson), not sure if feel the same about the content in this letter to employees. This letter could be leaked to them,” Hardman wrote.
So, Hardman is saying that Coleman didn’t want Nelson to have “as much detail” and was worried the letter with more details would get leaked to Nelson.
Hardman said she is a “firm believer” that transparency is important. And, once more she reminded Coleman that “DEI work is hard and uncomfortable.”
And then Hardman, who doesn’t appear to hold any law degree, said she would “LOVE” to discuss the “cake baker case” with Coleman.
“I feel the ruling actually bolsters our case – as they ruled that the Christian baker could not be forced to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. In our case, the courts could not force us to do business with folks who were against gay marriages. Am I interpreting this erroneously?” Hardman, who seemingly lacks any law degree, asked.
“We are not in any way asking them to do anything differently, we are just deciding not to partner with an organization who doesn’t share our value system. Having said that, I respect that we might not want to poke the sleeping bear, even in the memo to employees.”
Perhaps what Hardman doesn’t realize is the Christian baker is a private business. Broadlawns is a governmental entity. A governmental entity punishing a ministry by terminating a contract due to the ministry’s religious beliefs isn’t exactly the same thing as a privately owned bakery refusing to provide services at a same-sex wedding.
Clearly, Coleman or someone else had expressed some consternation at some point about the legality of what Broadlawns was doing.
The letter drafted for employees made it clear Broadlawns was terminating its agreement due to Freedom Blend Coffee’s ‘Statement of Faith.’
“While we recognize that every organization has the liberty and freedom and are entitled to promote their own value system, we must take all this account when choosing to continue to do business with them,” the draft said.
You can read the full draft here:
LAWYER: You never know the fallout from these actions
Barrett said he thought it was a “very good idea” to get “ahead of the termination of relationship” and give the official reasons for the termination to the staff in advance.
“Freedom of Youth is really a private ministry and as such can take its own position consistent with its religious views, without diversity concerns,” Barrett wrote. “(Broadlawns) as a secular governmental institution which is bound legally by different standards and laws related to diversity.”
Terminating the agreement, Barrett wrote, “is very consistent” with Broadlawns’ other relationships.
“For example, Mercy Hospital is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). In their contracts they are always trying to slide in paragraphs where BMC (and others they contract with) have to pledge to follow Catholic directives. As a public entity we have consistently either had those paragraphs struck or refused to sign the contract. Their primary issue is for them to get us to agree not to do abortions, which we don’t do here anyway, but that was beside the point. We ended our nursing student agreement, at least at one time, because of this issue. The ultimate legal reason to terminate such relationships is the Establishment Clause, i.e. we have to maintain separation of church and state. While Freedom of Youth is not commanding us to adopt their views explicitly, it might appear to the public that we are endorsing their views, which is reason enough to terminate.
“You never know the fallout from these actions but if there is pushback either internally or externally, we have a very strong justification for taking this action and a fairly strong pattern of doing so.”
The communication to all employees was dated Aug. 19, 2022 and included the paragraph explaining the governmental entity terminated the contract due to Freedom Blend Coffee’s religious beliefs.
BMC Providers provide bombshell statements about Freedom Blend
A doctor called Aaron Hahn sent Coleman and Hardman a note of thanks on Aug. 19 for terminating its agreement with Freedom Blend Coffee, who Hahn called a “terrible organization.”
“I just read Freedom for Youth’s ‘Statement of Faith’ and found it very sad. I really appreciate you ending Broadlawns association with such a terrible organization. I am too stunned and honestly angry to say anything else at the moment. I just wanted to lend a little support when you may receive backlash on this decision.”
Hardman, who on the same day told Nelson she respected his organization and wished “the very best” for Freedom Blend Coffee’s future endeavors, forwarded the email that called Freedom Blend Coffee a “terrible organization” with her own message, saying:
“I am in tears and so PROUD – all at the same time!”
She then responded to Hahn, thanking him for his support.
“When we know better, we do better. You are at an organization, and it is led by the top, who is walking the talk with regards to DEI and ensuring all our employees feel safe, affirmed and valued. I am PROUD to work for a leader who wants DEI – front and center of his leadership strategy. I share his values…Have a blessed weekend.”
Coleman also thanked Hahn for his note, saying he “sincerely appreciates” his support.
Perhaps more troubling than what Hahn wrote is what was shared by a doctor called Amy Bingaman when Hardman sought out her opinion on the communication.
Hardman noted that Bingaman is busy, but was interested in her thoughts on Coleman’s memo regarding Freedom Blend. Here is Bingaman’s response:
“100% agree with severing this relationship and I think your memo was excellent.
“I hope it makes them reconsider their exclusivity…..”
The same thing said another way…Bingaman hopes that a governmental entity terminating its contract with a ministry “makes” the ministry reconsider its “Statement of Faith.”
That is chilling.
How did Hardman respond?
“Thank you. Meeting with a provider today who is not happy with our decision. Got to have these crucial conversations one person at a time. Have a blessed day and keep bringing LIFE into this world.”
Remember, Hardman told Nelson she respected the position Nelson is in and the right of Freedom Blend to adopt values that align with their ministries. And she wishes them “all the very best” in the future.
Yet when a colleague of Hardman’s bluntly states she hopes the ministry will reconsider its religious beliefs, Hardman doesn’t indicate any disagreement at all with the statement, simply saying “thank you.”
PROVIDER: Termination has ‘immediate chilling effect’
Not everyone associated with Broadlawns agreed with the hospital’s decision. A provider wrote a response to Coleman and Hardman on Aug. 20 expressing deep concern over the termination.
“Termination of a business relationship based on one party’s religious beliefs seems inappropriate. The caricature of DEI is that it only includes progressive values while excluding, denigrating or seeking to ‘cancel’ conservatives or traditional Christian values. Was there an incident of some sort? If not, where is the line? Does this include other contractors and vendors? Individual employees? The tone of your letter is benign but I think this has an immediate chilling effect.”
Hardman told the provider she looked forward to their “face-to-face” conversation on Aug. 23.
The provider responded that Broadlawns “went from listening sessions and proposing a long on ramp to developing a full DEI philosophy to terminating a group with differing beliefs in a two-week span.”
“In my interpretation, the rationale for termination implies an all or nothing, ‘comply or be gone’ attitude.”
The provider noted that many religions do not comport with diversity, equity and inclusion. They also noted the Republican Party of Iowa platform doesn’t comport with diversity, equity and inclusion.
“If Broadlawns’ policy requires adherence to the DEI philosophy in order to do business, that policy excludes a significant portion of the population from employment and excludes many potential partner organizations in the community.
“Freedom of speech is comparable for businesses and individuals. If Broadlawns is willing to terminate contracts with a business over their religious beliefs, it opens the door to terminating individuals for incompatible philosophies.
“I recognize this was just the termination of one contract, but in my opinion it sets an alarming precedent.”
The provider asked what the limits of tolerance for heterodox views are at Broadlawns and what personal beliefs will be considered grounds for termination of contract, or preclude Broadlawns from entering into a contract with someone.
Hardman forwarded that message to Coleman, saying:
“FYI – should make for a robust discussion.”
Hardman told Coleman that the provider’s email “surprised” her.
“As you and I both know-our responses to folks must be measured and thought out. Folks probably want to see us get into a tit for tat. I would like to respond to (the provider) and you probably do as well. I have a meeting with (the provider) sometime next week. I will not respond until I hear from you.”
HARDMAN: Some folks will try to trip us up!
In Hardman’s draft, she wrote Freedom Blend Coffee “clearly has strong views around LGBTQ issues.”
“I refuse to call this a form of cancel culture as I have made it very clear to Freedom Blend, I respect the right of them to espouse their beliefs. As an organization, we also have the right to examine if who we do business with aligns with our culture of inclusivity for whomever we do business with.”
Hardman said she recognizes employees of Broadlawns may have views on both sides of the issue.
“I respect that as well as long as that does (not) show up as discriminatory behaviors in the work place,” she wrote.
In that same email, Hardman tells Coleman they should talk through whether he as CEO wants to engage in back and forth emails with employees regarding the memo.
“Some folks will try to trip us up!” she said. “Just think about it.”
Coleman sent a text message to the concerned provider and said he wanted to assure the provider there are “no efforts” to seek out contracts or employees to “cancel” based on their religious beliefs.
“There was a significant amount of thought that went into this decision and while I knew some would agree and some would not, I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Coleman encouraged the provider to keep their appointment with Hardman, stating she is “excited” to meet with the provider and hear the provider’s thoughts.
Hardman sent a text to Coleman saying “this is ridiculous.”
“(The provider) is surprising me!!” she wrote. “I see that (another provider) plans to call him. Not sure how effective that would be-given that I recently learned that (the other provider) is a major proponent of Freedom Blend.”
In a text message from 5:40 p.m. on Aug. 23, it appears Coleman told Hardman to “trust” Coleman…
“You don’t want to further meet with him about Freedom Blend.”
Hardman’s meeting with the provider about Freedom Blend was scheduled for Aug. 23.
Just prior to that text, it appears the provider sent an email thanking Hardman and the other provider for the conversation, but reiterating the provider still has concerns.
“Despite having common goals and substantial common ground relating to (diversity, equity and inclusion), I remain concerned about the implications of the termination of Freedom Blend Coffee’s contract,” the provider wrote. “While I don’t share their beliefs the precedent and implications are problematic.
“The contract wasn’t severed because of actions taken. The contract was severed because of their statement of faith. Freedom of speech is comparable for businesses and individuals. If (Broadlawns) is willing to terminate contracts with a business over their religious beliefs, it opens the door to terminating individuals for incompatible philosophies.
“If (Broadlawns) policy requires adherence to the DEI philosophy in order to do business, that policy excludes a significant portion of the population from employment and excludes many potential partner organizations in the community. Many mainstream religious sects (Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelical Christianity, conservative Islam among others) do not comport with DEI. The Iowa GOP platform does not comport with (diversity, equity and inclusion). This doesn’t necessitate that (Broadlawns) will discriminate against individuals belonging to these groups, but a policy in this vein naturally predisposes to discrimination in hiring and firing practices.”
The provider asked the following questions:
*Is there a limiting principle to dictate who will face consequences for their beliefs and who will not?
*What are the limits of tolerance for heterodox views at Broadlawns?
*For example, can current or potential employees/vendors/conslutants:
-privately belong to an organization with a statement of faith or political platform that does not comport with the Broadlawns DEI philosophy?
-publicly identify their affiliation with such an organization?
-make public statements on social media or in the press in support of their religious or political group?
-take a leadership position in their place of worship or political party?
*What personal beliefs will be considered grounds for termination of a contract, or would preclude entering a contract with Broadlawns?
*What protections will be in place to assure that the drive to be more inclusive of some marginalized groups does not exclude and discriminate against those affiliated with groups that run afoul of Broadlawns’ DEI orthodoxy (primarily conservative religious or political groups)?
*If this is a ‘case by case’ decision, who is the arbiter and what recourse does an adversely affected entity have to plead their case?
“Because a business entity has already been dismissed for their religious beliefs this is no longer a theoretical discussion,” the provider wrote.
There is no response to those questions, but Hardman did write to the “team” in regards to the provider’s concerns.
She said the conversation with the provider was “cordial and professional.”
“I established a few ground rules before our dialog. Of course, he sent me 4 full pages of notes for me to read prior to our meeting,” she wrote. “I also shared with (the provider) that we have had several people praising us for the decision. I also assured (the provider) that we were not looking to terminate employees for having different views as long as one does not exhibit discriminatory behaviors in the workplace.
“I personally do not think that going back and forth on email strings about a decision that we will not reverse serves any of us well. At some point, we will need to ‘agree to disagree.’
How to respond to The Iowa Standard
The Iowa Standard requested comment from Broadlawns’ chief strategy officer, a woman called Katie Wengert. We asked what portions of the beliefs of Freedom Blend Coffee is Broadlawns severing the agreement over.
Wengert asked to be provided with the specific beliefs that motivated the decision to sever the agreement. Coleman asked Wengert so share her thoughts on how she feels Broadlawns should proceed.
Having not received a response, The Iowa Standard published the story without comment from Broadlawns. Freedom Blend Coffee said it wouldn’t comment.
Wengert wrote to Coleman:
“Since he published the article without a response from Broadlawns or Freedom for Youth and he obviously has a copy of the all staff communication that was sent, he has the answer to his question. The Iowa Standard is a conservative publication that likely took exception to the decision to disassociate with Freedom Blend based on religious freedom. This is the second time that staff members have shared all staff communication with the media in the past eight months, and both circumstances were tied to religious views. As we discussed earlier this summer, it’s really best for us to refrain from touching upon political and religious views as a government hospital.
“To answer your question, I do not think a response is warranted at this point since they published the article without awaiting our response. I have kept my eyes on social media, and as of the moment there does not seem to be traction with the story. If circumstances dictate, we can respond. Please let me know if you feel otherwise.”
Hardman noted she read the story and wasn’t sure what The Iowa Standard needed from them.
“They cited things directly from our letter-which quite frankly speaks for itself,” she wrote. “I think Tony and I both knew that whatever was in our letter-it would be leaked. After all, we are a public hospital.
“No matter what we do-we will not please everyone. Other things that we pursue in this (diversity, equity and inclusion) space, won’t be met with 100 percent approval. I am responding respectfully to folks on both sides of the issue. I am pleased to have heard from other folks who have literally applauded our efforts. I would imagine, we may even get some folks speaking out at our Trustee meeting. Onward….”
Alan Ostergren, President and Chief Counsel at The Kirkwood Institute, told The Iowa Standard:
“Public bodies cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination. Broadlawns Hospital has no right to police the religious views of one if its contractors. The cancellation of this contract appears to be blatantly unconstitutional.”