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Religious Expression at Work: Persecution, or Pushy Employees?

January 14, 2010

A recent article at MSNBC.com by career-journalist Eve Tahmincioglu flatly asserts that “wearing your religion on your sleeve in a largely secular American workplace could hinder your career.” The author goes on to recount two cases of workers getting into trouble for “expressing their Christian beliefs.”

One young woman working at a ski resort in Vail was told to stop playing Christian music. She complained to HR and was fired in retaliation. Now she’s filed an EEOC suit. Another guy working at a Home Depot in Florida was fired because he wore a button that mentioned God on his orange apron.

Persecution? Religious harassment? Vicious attacks on Christians in the workplace?

It turns out that the guy at Home Depot was not supposed to be wearing any buttons on his apron other than the ones approved by the company. His special button said, “One nation under God Indivisible.” Harmless enough, right? Except that he was breaking the company’s dress code policy, one that was very important to its brand, culture and strategy.

Home Depot spokesman Ron DeFeo said, “Badges, buttons and pins are a big part of our culture. We give away thousands of them a year to our associates to recognize great customer service, store accomplishments, company milestones or to commemorate our community affairs initiatives. And we have a long-standing, well-communicated policy that states that only company-provided pins and badges can be worn by our associates.

This young man’s actions may be interpreted as belligerent and antagonistic, rather than spiritually heroic. I probably would have fired him too. There are, after all, plenty of other ways to express your faith in God and country other than wearing a forbidden button on your apron.

And the girl at the ski resort? According to the article’s recounting of the EEOC settlement, a supervisor at Vail ski resort operations forbade the employee from discussing her Christian beliefs at work and from listening to Christian music during work hours, even though there were no such restrictions on other workers.

I don’t know, maybe this employee was just being a little pushy. Does it really matter so much if we play a Christian radio station on the slopes? If it’s so important, then put on your earphones, girl! I personally prefer many other types of music to Christian radio, but that’s just me. I’d be more worried about what my boss wants to hear, or what the skiers who paid so much to ski want to hear, than insisting everyone listen to what I liked. This could just as easy come off like an act of immaturity from a socially autistic worker rather than standing up for Christ.

Vail agreed to pay $80,000 to settle the case.

I don’t know about you, but if my company had policies for what I was supposed to wear, or how I was supposed to conduct myself in front of customers, I would generally want to follow those policies. Especially if there were good reasons for those policies in the first place, and they didn’t cause any particular breach of my beliefs.

Maybe these cases are less about persecution for expressing Christian beliefs, and more about transient and immature workers who are just being bad employees.

Either way, I’m sure they are keeping the lawyers very busy.

Photo by nAncY, used with permission.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 9:50 pm

    This is so totally off the topic…

    I miss the camel.

    (And I think you can’t win the wine unless you answer the question 🙂

    • January 16, 2010 10:22 am

      Camel is on a break for a while.. Hopefully he’ll come back soon.

      And I really only wanted to win that poetry book.

  2. January 15, 2010 1:12 am

    interesting post.

    a lot of subjects are taboo at any workplace while other things are condoned.

    yet, i think that under almost any circumstance, one can project their beliefs without religious paraphernalia or saying a word.

    then there is the choice of changing “profession”.

  3. January 15, 2010 5:53 am

    It’s real easy to shout “Persecution!” and quote Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

    In a recent study the Barna Group discovered that ‘outsiders’ view Christians as hypocritical and judgmental (among other perceptions). I can imagine that when reading this.

    We as Christians often are hypocritical and judgmental. Let’s start loving our neighbors again.

    • January 16, 2010 10:25 am

      Leon – This Barna Group study (is that from their book “Unchristian”?)is such a reality-check for Christians. Very good advice- let’s just start loving our neighbors. That’s all most people really want – not to be preached at.

  4. January 15, 2010 8:28 am

    The Home Depot case is clear cut, assuming that the dress code requirements had indeed been clearly communicated. If there’s a dress code, and you agree to abide by it when you join, then there’s no debate. The second case, to me, is much less obvious. You can’t single someone out when there are no policies or rules. At the same time, the girl might have been more effective in sharing her faith by what she did rather than what she said or the music she played.

    Although, I wonder: what if the religion in both cases had been non-Christian? Would the company or the supervisor have been so quick to act? Would they have acted at all? (I know, I just injected something else into the conversation.)

    • January 16, 2010 10:28 am

      Glynn – this article did give an example of Muslim “harassment” too. The author was making a point about the increase of overall religious persection, not just Christians. With Muslims and other faiths, it may be more a question of what they wear, or keeping traditions (prayer at noon, no matter what) rather than what they say.

  5. January 15, 2010 8:31 am

    Bradley

    I have had Christian employees work for me who used the ‘harassment card’ against me! And I’m very vocal about my faith and even wrote a book on faith and the workplace — and unknowingly, they were accusing one of their own.

    We are too quick to look for our ‘rights’ being violated instead of just buckling down and working hard.

    There ARE legitimate cases of faith harassment on the workplace. But the good employees are respected for their ethic — and that leads discussions about what drives them. Their Master!

  6. January 15, 2010 10:22 am

    I so appreciate the common sense you’ve expressed in this post. One the most wonderful things I “got” from the Bible, early on, was that true Christians would be known by their deeds — that their faith would naturally shine through everything they do, from washing dishes to treating everyone they know with honesty and respect. I understand that some people need to evangelize, but so often it has the opposite impact on the audience they’re trying to reach…

  7. January 15, 2010 10:27 am

    OOpps. I need to clarify (re: my comment above) that I meant to say that the people playing the Christian harassment card are doing so in an attempt to evangelize. Or at least that’s the way I see it.

  8. January 15, 2010 2:22 pm

    Sadly, these kinds of cases are all too common. We covered scores and scores of them, especially like that of the ski resort, while I was writing and editing for a legal publisher.

    There are many reasons why such cases end up in court, and many have nothing to do religious freedom. Some of the most common are complete lack of commonsense; stupidity when a problem arises; poor training of supervisors and employees in understanding, abiding by, and enforcing policies and laws; inconsistently applied policies; poorly written policies or no policies at all; bad advice from HR; and bad advice from lawyers or lawyers who see a buck to be made and hold out for a settlement because they know a company doesn’t want publicity.

    What I fail to understand, given the huge number of reported cases on this subject, is this: What does it take to learn from and apply the lessons of these cases? And when are people going to grow up and understand that when you become employed, you make a contract to do a specific job to the best of your ability?

  9. January 15, 2010 5:46 pm

    On the one hand, shouldn’t we always be ready to suffer for the faith?

    On the other hand, I love this line from the movie “The Printing,” about Christians being willing to suffer for printing forbidden Bibles in the USSR, yet still doing what they could to avoid persecution: “We’re not martyrs on purpose.”

    An authority has jurisdiction over whatever realm is theirs. My pastor once taught that disobedience of estabished authority is only justified “if they command what God forbids or forbid what God commands.”

    All this is yet another argument for lifestyle evangelism being more persuasive and therefore effective than in-your-face evangelism.

  10. January 18, 2010 4:20 pm

    I tend to agree with your thoughts on this subject Brad. We can be authentic Christians who live our lives faithfully, according to the call of Christ, without being obnoxious and difficult for our employers. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t want us to become stumbling blocks for others by our inconsiderate or insubordinate behavior.

    If they didn’t like the rules, or didn’t think they could abide by the rules, perhaps they shouldn’t have taken the jobs in the first place.

  11. January 18, 2010 4:21 pm

    PS – stepping down from my soapbox now.

  12. Crystal Stoddard permalink
    January 26, 2010 9:30 am

    I have to agree with the home depot case – there was clear disobedience, though you have to admit it was rather nitpicky on corporate side and if we were at war that everyone was rooting for there would not be much of a fuss about it.

    The ski slope case I am a bit iffy on though – why was she the only employee that had restrictions on what she could listen to? When you single out christian employees like that, then I feel there is at least discrimination – not necessarily persecution – going on. Though I have to also admit there are also many christians who also put themselves IN compromising positions because they feel the need to proclaim at the top of their lungs their beliefs and values instead of letting the light of God shine through their works.

  13. gh0st permalink
    September 21, 2010 5:08 pm

    I stumbled across this when trying to research what is appropriate for a business email signature.

    Just wanted to reiterate: I am most often moved by those Christians who I am surprised to learn they are Christian. I am one of those (self imposed) “outsiders” one of the other posters commented on and I subscribe to most of those prejudices and assumptions.

    Just about when I am ready to dismiss every loud mouth, in your face, holy warriors and toss the baby out with the bath water, I will discover that that soft spoken neighbor, who for years has helped me out and been a good friend, is a devout and avid Christian. This is…I think you guys would term it “tugs at my heart strings for the church” but not sure how I would…more than ANY evangelism I have EVER come across. You guys keep it up. You are doing WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY more for your faith than any of those bozos on TV.

    Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

    • September 22, 2010 5:29 am

      Thanks ghost- I appreciate your point of view on this. It’s pretty much common sense to me, but not everyone views it this way.

  14. Gary permalink
    February 15, 2013 12:51 pm

    Mine is more of a question than comment after reading all your comments. I feel that what goes on in my work place is more defined by christian bashing. I can sit in my office and lisen to the sexual escapades of everyone as a badges of honer but when anything of GOD or Jesus is said the coment was made (and I will not repete the exact comment) Of Jesus involved in sexual acts (From my boss no less) and thinks its just hularious.A fellow employee was told it was ileagle to read his dail bread aload. In my mind but its ok to tell stories of having sex with his brother and his brothers wife ?? and use all kinds of foul language. This is ok?
    What rights do I have to be able to come to work and do my job and not be subject to the hurtfull comments. I do not push my beliefs off on anyone I dont want their anti beliefs pushed off on me

    • February 17, 2013 11:41 am

      Yes, the double-standard can be very frustrating. If you are truly feeling uncomfortable with the dirty talk at your office, then you should speak up to someone in HR. Tell them you’re going to hire a lawyer if they don’t address it. What you’re referring to is completely unprofessional and unacceptable, and has nothing to do with being a Christian or not.

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