Religious Freedom in the Workplace

There is a topic over which I have deeply pondered for many years. It seems to continually press upon my mind. Some will agree with me, others will disagree, but I have felt the need to be bold, and also kind, in expressing my views. I simply do not desire to be silent any more about this issue.

I have a fundamental disagreement with our modern, Western culture. I believe—deeply and profoundly—that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that such marriage is ordained of God. Simply put, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I wholeheartedly accept and internalize the tenets of our faith.

Before I go further, I want to be very clear about my purpose in writing this. I am not seeking to divide or offend, nor am I necessarily seeking to engage in a debate over the issue. You are welcome to personally contact me with any questions, but this is not the thesis of my article. I feel a great exigency in promoting a pluralistic society and the immediate need we have, as a people, to learn to live in more harmony and peace.

I feel a deep concern for religious freedom in society at large. I also feel a concern for LGBTQ people who are unfairly treated, called mean epithets and discriminated against unfairly. I truly believe that most people, including LGBTQ are trying to live a sincere and honest life. We all want that, do we not? If I have ever been guilty of such offenses, I deeply regret my actions. So, I want to be very clear that my views are in no way an expression of hatred or disgust, but rather concern for a number of profound issues that, perhaps, not every member of my generation has thought through.

Recently, a Congressman from Utah, Rep. Chris Stewart (R) introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives titled Fairness for All Act (1). This bill, as the authors declare, “show[s] it’s possible to protect people of faith and the LGBTQ community at the same time.” While I have not had much time to study the bill in depth, I applaud the attempt at conversation and compromise across the isle. Compromise is a unique privilege we have in democracy, and I truly believe that, when one side takes all, all lose all.

Not necessarily addressed in the bill or in society at large is an equally pertinent subject, that is: religious freedom in the workplace. This is my primary reason for writing, as I want to raise awareness for some very real, albeit unpopular facts.

In the past, and even in the present, many LGBTQ people have been discriminated against in employment. This is despicable. Everybody deserves the right to work, to enjoy life, to support themselves and their families, etc. However, there is a growing group that is becoming marginalized, even pushed out of the workplace. This group includes people like me, who, not only belong to a particular religion, but also adhere to its tenets in thought, practice and deed. See, in my mind, there is little separation between “personal” and “public” life. What I present to the world is simply me—truly, I am the same in private and public, to a fault. I’m not always friendly, open or understanding. At times, I don’t get along with people. Maybe that’s why I am a professional programmer and not a salesman! Whatever my personal shortcomings may be, I have had many profound spiritual experiences that teach me that God is real, that he loves me, that he loves all his works (humans), and that his only design is to bring us back into his presence to live with him for eternity (2). In addition, I have also had many profound experiences that teach me that divine, immutable law is a reality. I feel a deep concern for the institution of family and marriage and, although I am still single, I hold strongly to those ideals.

I want to be very clear as to what religious freedom is not. It is not simply the right to believe whatever one desires—even the Bolsheviks recognized this right! It is also not simply the right to worship behind closed doors. I believe Solzhenitsyn put it best when he wrote, describing the awful conditions of the early days of Leninism:

“You can pray freely–But just so God alone can hear.”

– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Now, I do not for one second believe that we are, in any way, like the Soviet Union in the United States of America. We are still the most free land in the world. But, I am concerned with the rising anti-religious sentiments of my generation. I do not agree that religion is the root cause of all that is bad in the world. This would fall under four thinking anomalies described by Dr. David D. Burns in The Feeling Good Handbook (3). These distortions are

1) Over-generalization

2) Discounting the Positive

3) Looking through a Lens

4) Labeling

We over-generalize when we decide that something is “all bad” or “all good,” or when we declare that the way we see things is the way they really are. When we discount the positive, we ignore all the good that somebody has done and we only see the negative; in short, we turn people into caricatures of pure evil or pure good. In reality, I think that most people are motivated by good intentions, but that the result of such intentions isn’t always interpreted by others in a positive light. Additionally, when we look through a lens, we see things quite distorted, as if we were in one of those “mirror rooms” at the circus. No person would reasonably think he or she really is as the fun-mirror suggests, but, for some reason, we tend to see our motivations and those of other people this way. Thus, our labels become justified in our minds, because of our mental distortions.

I have seen incredible good come from religion. I have seen many people change their lives, for the better. I have also seen some people renounce religion, and I see a light go out of their eyes.

For me and many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (as well as other religious groups), we cannot simply cast off our doctrines as old-fashioned or only applicable in private. We see the world from the particular viewpoint the doctrines provides us. It requires us to treat others with kindness and civility. It requires us to draw the line in supporting, endorsing or condoning some behaviors. We may fall short of these ideals, but they are still, nonetheless, ideals.

When I see the world, I see more than a simple narrative of equality/inequality, discrimination/tolerance, acceptance/bigotry. In fact, I see quite a complex interaction of human desires, tendencies, sophistries, shortcomings—all mixed in with the very real concept of divine, immutable law. No, not all things are black and white. But some things do not change. I mourn when I think of all the children who do not have a mother or father. All the sexual abuse against women disgusts me to the core. I also see hypocrisy when one political party claims some form of moral superiority, only to elect one of the least morally upright presidents the US has ever seen. All political ideas aside, however, I cannot simply “change” the way I see the world, any more than anybody else can. You cannot expect me to cast off my religious conscience, only to accept the narrow view of this current culture, as if I were somehow casting off a childish belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. It does not work that way. My religion is a core part of my identity. Not outer core—absolute bullseye core. For me to feel coerced or manipulated in any way to participate in, support, condone or in any other way advocate behavior and ideologies to which I fundamentally disagree causes a tremendous amount of stress in my mind. At times, I have felt it would be better to die than to continue to try to cope with society. However, I must move forward, as must we all.

Many workplaces have fully adopted ideologies of acceptance and diversity. This is great! However, there is a dark underbelly to this, which hardly ever gets revealed. It is, that there is a real minority in this world, which we may consider a “thought minority,” who disagrees with popular opinions, ideologies and movements. Many may find this offensive, but, it is, nevertheless, diversity. Does this group not also deserve the same entitlements to fair treatment as any other? Is forcing a person to choose between their job or religious conscience really healthy for our society? No. It is not.

I have been fortunate enough to work for mostly good employers who grant space to their employees to believe and act as they see fit. However, I once worked for a massive technology corporation in which I lived in daily fear. What fear, you ask? The fear that somebody might discover I actually believed in the tenets of my religion. The fear that I would lose my job for stating those beliefs. The fear that my choice to refrain from advocacy not related to our core product would put me fundamentally at odds with the employer. I chose to leave that employer promptly. I know that I am not the only person who has experienced such fears, but many of us do not speak out, because of—you guessed it: fear. This cannot be healthy for individuals, societies, and especially, employers. There needs to be a balance between promotion of popular ideologies and space for dissent.

I hope that I have not offended anyone. I simply could not remain silent on this very important, but often neglected issue. Perhaps we can come to a greater understanding of each other and live in more harmony.

  2. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956; an experiment in literary investigation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  4. The Feeling Good Handbook. 1999; by David D. Burns

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