Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about religious discrimination: One of the staff members has taped a poster advertising The Passion of the Christ DVDs on the outside of her office door facing the hallway that I have to pass. Is this legal?

I have a situation at work that I feel constitutes or borders on anti-Semitism. I hope you can advise me as to what my rights are. I work for a non-sectarian association, with 18 employees. One of the staff members has taped a poster advertising The Passion of the Christ DVDs on the outside of her office door facing the hallway that I have to pass. Is this legal?

I know employees have the right to express their religion within their work areas – but this seems far beyond the realm of self-expression. Do I have grounds to demand it be taken down – or moved so it is not visible from the hall? To make matters worse, the organization has allowed a rather sectarian culture to persist. Our board members have a habit of saying Christian prayers during meetings/conferences with staff present.

I have asked our executive director to establish a policy that that if prayers must be said they at least be non- denominational. The “solution” he offered was that I could leave the room prior to the prayer! I have chosen not to. I have had issues at this job before, involving Good Friday being a staff holiday, and not allowing me to trade it for a Jewish holiday. This was resolved after a change of executive director and the day converted to PTO. I would appreciate knowing what my rights are. Thank you.

Signed, My Rights

Dear My Rights:

You do not say if your non-sectarian workplace is one that is privately owned and if it engages in work for the government in any way. These facts affect what is legal. Nevertheless, unless your organization is religiously owned, freedom of and discrimination from religion should govern what is acceptable in your workplace.

Your rights on the job with respect to religion are that no one should suffer discrimination due to religion, race, sex, age, disability, national organ, and possibly other reasons. Add to this the current governmental advice to employers that they make accommodation to those in their employment regarding on site gatherings for religious exercises, clothing, grooming, symbols, and observance of religious holidays to the degree that they are reasonable for the work of the organization.

Does allowing you to leave the room provide a reasonable alternative when Christian prayers are part of staff or official business meetings? No. This places you in an embarrassing position based on your difference in religious beliefs. Long ago the Supreme Court ruled that such an option for school children, who did not want to pray or listen to Bible reading, was not an adequate remedy.

Can you request that “The Passion of the Christ” DVD’s poster be removed from public display? Yes, you can, but to do so based on religious discrimination is doubtful in my non-legal opinion (Our site does not give legal advice). If you wish you could post a poster of your faith. Usually, more speech is the superior remedy to censoring someone’s expression of belief, however, distasteful.

Should you be given equal opportunity to observe a Jewish holiday equal to those who observe Christian holiday? Yes, based on discrimination if you are not so allowed. You say that you have raised the issue of religious holidays and that this was resolved in your favor. Now, whether you will chose to request that the poster be removed, possibly as offensive to your faith, and whether you will insist that prayers of Christian or any type not be part of regularly scheduled business meetings is a matter that is more than one of your rights, it is a political issue for you. Sure, if doing so results in retaliation, you could then charge discrimination and probably win (after a long time and possible cost career-wise).

Is it possible to communicate your concern for a less sectarian culture forcefully and persuasively and to be respected for doing so? The answer to that question is problematic. Its answer undoubtedly hinges on how much capital of goodwill you have earned and value you are perceived to add to the organization. I put my faith in honest and professional communication. When doing so, on the one hand you can make the case for accommodation of religious faith and on the other for creating an environment that is not religiously hostile for any faith or practice.

Most of all you can make the case for practicing the common virtues of diverse faiths and goodwill. Please feel free to keep me posted on what you elect to do and what develops. Many differences can be resolved that are not hurtful but are mutually beneficial when approached with WEGO-mindedness. Incidentally, I am attaching the first chapter of a manuscript I have entitled Straight Talk About Spirituality At Work To Bosses and The Bossed.

William Gorden