A recent LinkedIn article appeared in my news feed about a business owner who lead his subordinates in a Christian prayer group before the work day started. There were approximately a dozen or so comments; all, of which, were reaffirming the event as “exactly what we needed” and “tired of all of the political correctness.” This reminded of a situation that I faced in the workplace – years before – where the owner was stopping by everyone’s desk with a friend of his running for a political office. The owner’s friend was collecting signatures to be put on the ballot. As they approached my cubicle, I heard the owner say, “Oh, we can’t get his (my) signature, because he’s a (different political party).” What is the common theme of these scenarios? That any perceived differences can be held against you. While it may not be life-threatening, the difference of ideology and/or faith can lead to a spectrum of problems that can lead to negative outcomes…..and make the relationship adversarial.
I remember a time, many years ago, that religion and politics were completely off-limits. It was a society norm to leave that out of any discussions; just like the topic of salary. I am not sure why that has changed. Sure, you could have some personal items on your desk; but they were typically the innocuous family members, crafts made by offspring, or other tchotchkes. Rules already existed to prevent anything in the workplace that cause people to feel uncomfortable, including sexually suggestive items. It is likely that most jobs, at this point, require employees to sit through presentations that state discrimination against race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any other minority issue. Employee handbooks are legal documents. It is a contractual agreement between employers and employees. You sign off that you understand the content, and agree to follow it – and accept the consequences when the rules are broken.
I think the best solution is to keep politics and religion out of the office. Unless you work for a specific religious organization or political organization, faith and political ideology should not have any role in your work. Public or private companies should have very specific rules that guides the business, as well as employees about the absence of these issues in the workplace. Rules already exist to not solicit coworkers with various charities or fundraisers. Unfortunately, there is a blending that generate lots of problems. It is also not a case of impinging upon freedom of speech, necessarily
There are consequences for having religion become visible in the office. Any office is usually going to consist of a range of beliefs, which aren’t necessarily in conflict. However, some may feel more compelled to “witness” or proselytize their faith to others. The other employees that do not share those beliefs are essentially compelled to be there because it is their livelihood, not the voluntary choice to attend a religious organization. Even though religious faith is generally considered a private issue, yet some take data like the research data that says 77% of Americans are Christians as “might makes right.” Of course, that implies a unity that is not necessarily real – as approximately 50% are Protestant-based beliefs and roughly 20% are Catholic. While both are considered Christians, they do not share all tenets. A distinction rarely made in the media, as mentioned in these cases. Atheists and Agnostics are faced with hearing messages they do not necessarily want to hear. Non-mainstream faiths may be met with even more antagonism. How does that antagonism play out at the work place? You get bullying. So, it is clearly bad if it is coworker-oriented. What if it’s your boss/manager/owner? You can find yourself out of a job. It doesn’t matter if you practice Wicca, Islam, Christianity, or are an atheist. The social stigma of not sharing religious affiliation, while overt enough to make the alienation very real; it can be covertly presented as seemingly legitimate appearing issues of tardiness, poor performance, or other legal avenues to terminate employment.
For those of you who don’t believe there is any persecution…ok, that’s a strong word. How about alienation or ostracism; pick any of the following labels (above) and announce that you belong to that group to your coworkers, classmates, and family. See what kind of reaction you get. Make note of how your relationship may change with them, and whether or not you feel that you’re under more scrutiny than before.
Side note: I am not going to pretend that this issue is one-sided. I am also aware that there are global issues at play here. Religious persecution, especially in less democratic countries, can include killing those who either practice a different faith or no faith at all. Examples can be found here, here, and the historical examples of the Holocaust. This is the extension to the extreme; a trajectory of where the hate can lead. If we add killing others for ideological reasons, there are far too many to list. Google things like The Sino War (1937) where the Japanese Army marched on the Chinese city of Nanking, the Katyn massacre in Poland (1940), the Killing Fields of Cambodia/Pol Pot (late 1970s), and much more, unfortunately. I am not linking to these very extreme examples, because they are graphic and disturbing.
As my recent theme of apocalypse were to occur, I have a feeling that humans may fall back into dangerous, lethal habits. Go back even farther in history and the pattern continues. The Middle Ages, not only had their share of the hate; they even had instruments to help them express that hate.