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Where Does Religious Expression End In The Workplace?

October 31, 2013

The dialogue on matters such as the one presented today from Justia is the type that we should engage in more often.  Today the topic was religious liberty.

Too often there is a cry that religious expression is being denied for this or that reason.  What might we do with what seems like an ever-expanding list of demands from those who adhere to a wide array of varying beliefs?  From a longer piece I post the following segments.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that religious discrimination claims in the workplace claims are on the rise.  The article included stories of employees who made the following demands: (1) a claim to the right not to use biometric hand-scanning technology, made by a Christian evangelical who believes that Satan will place his mark on people’s hands or foreheads according to the Bible; (2) a claim to the right to wear a hijab, or full headscarf, by Muslim women working at Abercrombie and Fitch; and (3) the right not to transport liquor by Muslim drivers.   Add to this the perennial claims for Sabbath observance and for a right to wear other articles of clothing, such as turbans for Sikhs, and long skirts by various religious believers.

Such claims against private employers are brought through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or its state counterparts.  The standard in such cases is whether accommodation places an “undue hardship” on the business.   As the story points out, religious claimants don’t always win, but employers must litigate the cases, and more cases are being brought.

This same worldview has infected debates over religious liberty, where individuals are now demanding the right to construct their workplaces, communities, and schools in the image of their personal religious viewpoint.  This is religious narcissism.  While there are serious reasons to be concerned about the Me Me Me Generation’s work ethic and its future, and to be annoyed with its self-centeredness, which is doing millennials no favors in the workplace or at home, the attitude that is being urged on religious believers poses a the more significant threat, in my view. –

The problem of religious believers expecting the world to reflect their religious viewpoint is not just a characteristic of employees.  As I have written in this recent column, employers like Hobby Lobby and other for-profit companies are demanding the “right” to shape their health care plans to fit their personal religious worldview, regardless of the religious beliefs of their employees.  The companies are asserting a right to exclude medications for women from the company’s health plan according to their religious worldview.

As the Wall Street Journal’s article discussed above portends, I fully expect employees to respond to such claims with their own EEOC claims against such employers for discriminating on the basis of religion and gender in their health care plans.  For-profit companies with over 15 employees, who are therefore subject to Title VII, can’t distribute salaries based on religion or gender, so why should they be able to distribute health care on those parameters?   So far, the employees’ religious viewpoints and needs have occupied the background as Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and the Catholic bishops have loudly beaten their religious chests in public and their lawyers have pontificated about their “rights” to make the workplace in their religious world view.   This is, again, religious narcissism.

Enough of the battle lines being drawn by religious believers in the United States.  It is time to shift back to talking about two-way accommodation—accommodation by both believers and those in power, whether it is the state or the private marketplace.  That will require a change from narcissism as the primary platform for arguing for religious liberty, to a position that requires believers to be good faith members of the larger society.

One Comment
  1. Vail permalink
    October 31, 2013 2:03 PM

    I think that as long as your religion doesn’t affect how you do your job, it’s fine. When it makes you stop being effective then you need to find another job. Want to wear a head scarf to work? As long as it won’t get caught in machinery or you model hair styles don’t see the problem. You don’t want to use technology needed to do your job .. bye bye. You only want to serve certain customers… bye bye. You have objections to dispensing legal medication.. bye bye.

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