Is discrimination against Christians in the U.S. a real issue? How about against people from other religions and belief groups? Sadly, the answer to both questions is a resounding “yes.”
More than 25 percent of American workers say that discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem as discrimination against religious minorities. And over half of all American workers believe that Muslims face a lot of discrimination across the U.S. This data comes from a new survey of over 2,000 employed Americans by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, “What American Workers Really Think About Religion.”
According to survey respondents, three different groups – Muslims and other minority religious traditions in this country, atheists, and white evangelical Protestants – all report seeing or personally experiencing religious prejudice far more frequently than the rest of society. Nearly six out of ten atheists believe that people look down on their beliefs, as do nearly one-third of non-Christian religious workers and white evangelical Protestants.
In my work combatting religious prejudice, I’ve heard many stories of how companies struggle with these issues. And to be fair, addressing religion and those who adhere to different faiths is not easy.
For example, in 2004, a Christian employee was fired for refusing to sign his company’s diversity policy. The policy required him to respect and value everyone’s differences. He explained to his managers that he would respect all of his colleagues regardless of their differences, but that he could not agree to value homosexuality or any religious belief other than Christianity. A judge sided with the fired employee, noting that the company had every right to expect him to behave respectfully at work – but it had no right to tell him what to value.
The complexity goes beyond such issues. Sometimes, one employee’s beliefs directly contradict another’s and conflicts emerge. Because of such challenges, I’m often asked whether employers are the ones who are responsible for dealing with religious diversity in the first place.
Legally, an employer must accommodate religious needs as long as it does not cause the company “undue hardship.” Though this can be a blurry area and based on the specifics of a situation, it’s clear that a bare minimum is required. But doing the bare minimum to accommodate religious needs will not position a company for success.
Proactive policies, communication from management on expectations, and training, are all important steps to ensure that colleagues know how to be respectful toward each other. In fact, when companies do not have policies on religious discrimination, their employees are more likely to be dissatisfied and seek another job. Conversely, companies with such policies are more likely to retain talented workers.
So does this mean that, with the right policies, we can eliminate religious prejudice and discrimination? Frankly, no. But eradicating discrimination should be our vision, and our goal should be to make every effort to realize that vision. Far too many people – Christians and non-Christians alike – feel marginalized and looked down upon. Being more proactive about religious difference can reduce how many people feel this pain.
Christians deserve to have their beliefs respected, as do the religiously unaffiliated and members of minority religious groups. And this is possible. Employers can take the lead in a movement that will benefit their companies, their employees and, in the long run, our nation.