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I am a public worker and the governor pushes faith at work — Ask a Supervisor


A reader writes:

Not like the majority of your letters, I’m going to call my employer for 2 causes: (1) I technically work for an elected official so it’s not a regular boss/worker relationship and (2) a number of reporters lined and recorded the habits in query as a result of these have been public occasions. Yow will discover it on-line in every single place.

I’m a state worker in Virginia, and I’m not appointed. Though I work at an company, I’m technically a part of the manager department, which implies I work for Governor Glenn Youngkin. I’m additionally an atheist.

I’m fairly excessive up in my company, which implies I work instantly with Governor Youngkin’s employees rather a lot on public occasions: speeches, ribbon cuttings, bulletins, conferences, and so forth. Throughout his speeches, he and his spouse repeatedly point out their Christian religion, they usually communicate as if the whole viewers is Christian as properly.

Right here’s what bothers me. One among Governor Youngkin’s habits is to open a public occasion or speech with a prayer (or a minister does it), closely reference his relationship with Jesus Christ all through his remarks, and request us to bow our heads and say “amen.” In a single occasion, he stated all of us at a public assembly have been “created in God’s picture” and I used to be so uncomfortable and aggravated, however I hid my frustration. I refuse to bow my head or shut my eyes or clasp my fingers or say “amen” on command or applaud an anecdote in regards to the energy of believing in Jesus Christ. I merely stand or sit the place I’m and say nothing, wanting off into the gap. A number of days in the past, my large boss (a Youngkin appointee) seen that I wasn’t bowing my head through the opening prayer at a public occasion, and he gave me a puzzled look after which an eyebrow elevate. Though I’m uncomfortable, I’ve by no means stated something nor drawn consideration to myself. I doubt anybody else in my workplace is aware of how I really feel. However…

There’s one other occasion with the governor arising, and my large boss stated he needs to speak to me beforehand. (It won’t be about my lack of participation.) I’d wish to be ready if he or anybody from the administration approaches me about my lack of participation in non secular choices. (My large boss may be very involved with appearances.) What are my rights? What can they legally ask me to do? How can I politely and professionally push again? Do I’ve to reveal that I’m an atheist? Can they forbid me from attending these occasions? (In the event that they did, that’d be an enormous blow to my profession.) I checked my HR coverage, however I can’t discover something particular to this state of affairs.

The opposite non-Christians in my workplace would love this info as properly.

(To be clear, I don’t suppose Governor Youngkin is actively attempting to transform individuals. I feel he and his employees have been round individuals who consider precisely like them for thus lengthy that they don’t notice that workers of different faiths and no faiths exist as properly.)

Youngkin is my governor too and it’s infuriating to observe what he’s doing in our state.

I requested employment lawyer Jon Hyman of Wickens Herzer Panza, who writes the extremely helpful Ohio Employer Regulation Weblog and is the writer of The Employer Invoice of Rights: A Supervisor’s Information to Office Regulation, to weigh in on this. Right here’s what he stated:

The office and faith don’t combine, whether or not the office is public or non-public. An employer can not power its workers to evolve to, observe, or observe their employer’s chosen non secular practices and beliefs. Something completely different violates Title VII in both a public or non-public office. Furthermore, in a authorities office there are extra First Modification issues. A state or native authorities doesn’t violate the First Modification by beginning authorities conferences with a prayer, because the Supreme Court docket held in 2014 in City of Greece v. Galloway. Nonetheless, there’s a huge distinction between holding a prayer and forcing participation in it, even nominally such a bowing one’s head or in any other case showing to be reverent. The latter is illegal (and on this case seemingly unconstitutional).

What which means in your case: You can’t be required to take part in prayer. You can’t be instructed to bow your head or say “amen.” You have to be allowed to take a seat quietly and never take part, as you’ve been doing. Additionally they can not forbid you from attending public occasions or work occasions if you happen to decline to carry out non secular observance in the best way they need.

You do not want to reveal you might be an atheist. You can disclose it, if you wish to! However you’re entitled to maintain that non-public too.

I requested Jon, “If the letter-writer’s boss does confront them about why they’re not bowing their head, and so forth. throughout prayer, do you’ve recommended wording to push again? I do know they may simply bluntly say that they’ll’t legally be required to take part — and that could be the best way to go — however assuming they’re involved about retaining issues as harmonious as doable of their working relationships and since they look like coping with zealots, would you advise any explicit messaging? My first thought is to say one thing like, ‘Oh, I don’t take part in public prayers’ … after which provided that pushed, ‘Legally, we will’t require that sort of participation from workers.’” Jon replied:

If requested, it actually places the worker in a troublesome spot. I like the thought of a softer method first, one thing like, “My faith and spirituality may be very private to me, and I’d favor to maintain it out of the office.” If pushed, the worker might at all times fall again to authorized argument, however at that time I really feel like the connection may be broken to the purpose of irreparability.

I love the “my faith and spirituality may be very private to me, and I’d favor to maintain it out of the office” language if you happen to’re comfy saying it and would have that able to go if you happen to want it.

Jon additionally provided this recommendation to employers:

If you happen to’re considering of holding a prayer assembly, conducting non secular discussions or rituals, or doing anything remotely associated to faith at your organization, don’t. Faith has no place at work. Your workers have the unfettered proper to observe the faith of their alternative or to not observe any faith in any respect, and none of it’s any of anybody else’s enterprise.

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