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Office Depot Defends Employees' Refusal To Make Copies Of Anti-Abortion 'Hate Material'

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. ( — A suburban Chicago woman is accusing Office Depot of religious discrimination, saying employees told her that making copies of an anti-abortion prayer violated company policy.

Last month, Maria Goldstein, a Roman Catholic, asked employees at an Office Depot location in Schaumburg, Ill., to make 500 copies of "A Prayer for Planned Parenthood", the Associated Press reported.

The prayer was composed by the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of the anti-abortion group Priest for Life. It calls on God to "Bring an end to the killing of children in the womb, and bring an end to the sale of their body parts. Bring conversion to all who do this, and enlightenment to all who advocate it."

The prayer also includes statistics about abortion in the U.S. and decries "the evil that has been exposed in Planned Parenthood and in the entire abortion industry."

Company spokeswoman Karen Denning tells the Chicago Tribune that Office Depot prohibits the copying of material that advocates "the persecution of certain groups of people," among other criteria. She says the flier "contained material that advocates the persecution of people who support abortion rights."

But Goldstein says the handout (PDF) was part of a weeklong prayer and fasting campaign that aims to change opinions on abortion.

Pavone issued a statement Thursday in defense of Goldstein.

"I am proud of Maria Goldstein for standing up for her rights, and I call upon Office Depot to reconsider this decision by evaluating more carefully the words of the prayer and the intent of its author," Pavone said.

The group also called on its supporters cross the country "to bring the prayer to Office Depot outlets in their own communities to have it copied."

The St. Thomas More Society, a pro-life legal firm, sent a letter (PDF) Thursday to Office Depot asking for clarification on the company's policy of refusal of service for customers.

In the letter addressed to Office Depot CEO Roland Smith, attorney Thomas Olp states: "We suggest that you consider what your position would be if our client were black and your employees refused service because of her race. In that case it would not be hard to see how unreasonable that refusal of service would be."

In response, an attorney for Office Depot responded with a letter dated Sept. 11 (PDF) stating the company considers the handout and other similar content "hate material" and denies the decision was at all related to Goldstein's religion.

"Office Depot's decision was not based in any part on the fact that the message here is couched in terms of Ms. Goldstein's religious beliefs. In other words the language at issue would violate Office Depot's policy regardless of the content surrounding it," the letter states.

Attorneys say store associates gave Goldstein "the option of printing the flyer at one of our in-store, self-service copy machines", which she declined to do, according to the letter.

If the company doesn't respond in five days, Olp plans to file complaints with the Cook County Human Rights Commission and Illinois Department of Human Rights.

"The best resolution would be that they would say `This was unjust. You were discriminated against because of your religion' and then admit this was wrong," Goldstein said. "I'd appreciate them printing the flier. The statistics are still valid and the prayer is still valid."

Office Depot is based in Boca Raton, Florida. Last May, the company announced plans to close about 400 stores across Southern California and other U.S. locations.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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