Does Religious Observance and the Workplace Mix?

church.gif[Cross-posted on Workplace Prof Blog]

I argue strongly in a recent paper that it is inappropriate for employers to provide workplace chaplains in the workplace for their employees:

In addition to political speeches, more companies are hiring ministers to serve their workers. Some critics believe that these ministers have another agenda – to convert. Evangelical Christian organizations are offering Christian ministry services for employers to provide to their employees during work hours. Prayer breakfasts, faith-based training and education, and requests for information about employees’ religious affiliations are becoming part of the American workplace.

A number of companies have been formed to provide employer-sponsored religious services to employees, including Marketplace Ministries, Corporate Chaplains of America, Workplace Chaplains, and Chaplains at Work. For instance, Marketplace Ministries, Inc., now has 1700 chaplains and makes on-site visits to 300 companies in 38 states. Marketplace Chaplains U.S.A. employed 1,629 chaplains last year.

While the accommodation of voluntary religious observance in the workplace is certainly not objectionable, this growing corporate sponsorship and encouragement of religious observance creates a significant danger of compulsion. The agencies with which employers contract to provide religious services may also have a deeply held mission that may lead them to borrow employers’ authority over employees in order to gain an audience. Although limits exist on the ability of employers to proselytize in the workplace under Title VII and parallel state anti-discrimination law, the relative lack of cases in this area suggest that employees do not yet feel comfortable fighting back against these workplace practices.

A few days ago, CNN.com had an article on the same topic:

Religion, like sex and politics, once was considered inappropriate watercooler talk. Not anymore. Prayer sessions, religious diversity groups and chaplains like Reece, along with rabbis and imams, have become more common across corporate America in the past decade.

Fifty percent of those questioned in a 2002 Gallup poll said religious expression should be tolerated in the work place while another 28 percent thought it should be encouraged. That’s compared to 21percent who didn’t see a place for religious expression on the job.

I might be in the minority here, but I am as well as far as being part of a minority religion too (Jewish). Perhaps, I see compulsion where others don’t, but I think employers should be very circumspect in encouraging religious observance in the workplace and potentially alienating many workers.

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3 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    In your paper, do you make distinctions between public and private corporations, family-owned versus non, etc.?

    –Jonathan

  2. Paul says:

    Jonathan, my paper deals with National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)-eligible workplaces, so only private workplaces. Clearly, there would be different issues for public workplaces given the application of the Religion Clauses of the Constitution. I talk about some of those here in this other paper: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=946801.

    As far as family-owned vs. non-family-owned, the NLRA is generally not applied to mom and pop shops (if that is what you mean). On the other hand, if you mean a large, religiously-oriented family-owned companies, like Chick-Fil-A, I suppose an argument could be made that employees should know that religion infuses a company like that and should not be surprised by religious observance.

    But just because a Chick-Fil-A is religiously-oriented does not mean it would not be subject to a Title VII claim for religious harassment if its supervisors proselytized unwilling workers.

    For a view that there should be an exception for religiously-oriented, private employers under Title VII using an expressive association analysis, see Julie Manning Magid & Jamie Darin Prenkert, The Religious and Associational Freedoms of Business Owners, 7 U. PA. J. LAB. & EMP. L. 191, 218 (2005)(arguing recent free exercise, hybrid rights, and associational cases decided by Supreme Court, support religiously-devoted employers’ rights to promote religion and disassociate from individuals who do not share their beliefs without violating antidiscrimination laws).

  3. Rick Johnson says:

    Wow, it’s really disgusting how the filthy, insidious disease of religion keeps trying to worm its way into every nook and cranny of modern life. Where is the outrage? Doesn’t this make anyone angry? Aren’t you afraid?!! Or are you all brain-dead zombies in the giant cult called religion?