More Co's Allowing Employees to Praise the Lord at Work

May 18, 2005 ( - Even though many companies have been reluctant to allow open religious expression in the workplace, corporate giants such as AOL, Intel Corp., American Express, American Airlines, and Ford Motor Co. are starting to change that approach.

Pushed primarily by evangelical Christians, many companies are allowing employees to sing the Lord’s praises only according to strict rules – at lunch and on breaks, and only to those who want to listen – to minimize complaints from their colleagues, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

The Times said that an evangelical movement emboldened by its strength in the 2004 presidential election is being forced to accept limits to secure a place in the corporate world.

In exchange for that acknowledgement, some employers permit workers to share Bible verses on the company listserv, advertise religious events on the company intranet and invite inspirational speakers to read Scripture in the corporate auditorium.

The new workplace religious reality troubles many who are not used to seeing a Bible on a desk or hearing a supervisor respond to a casual “How’s it going?” with an earnest “I’m blessed.”

According to the Times report, when Christians started asking to be allowed to gather in company owned facilities, many managers saw it as an extension of an idea that already had served them well when extended to other worker groups with common interests. Some employers also have budgets for the events that could run into the thousands of dollars, according to the newspaper.

“There are intangible benefits,” said Tiane Mitchell-Gordon, AOL’s director of diversity and inclusion, to the Times. Companies profit, she said, when their workers are highly engaged.

Workplace Comity

Yet other firms worried about the effect on workplace comity, not to mention potential lawsuits on grounds of religious harassment. Coca-Cola Co. and General Motors Corp., among others, have refused to recognize religious employee groups, though they allow workers to organize around race, sexual orientation and gender.

“There is a spectrum ranging from proactive corporate leaders who are saying we need to think about this and find appropriate ways to embrace it, and others who say this is a complete hornet’s nest,” David Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, told the Times. “We are watching corporate America in the throes of this. It’s the great laboratory.”

By law, employers must accommodate reasonable religious expression, but also protect against discrimination or harassment, including unwanted proselytizing, said Chris Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, which specializes in religion in the workplace.

Similarly, federal workers have broad rights to religious expression under guidelines issued by President Clinton, as long as it does not affect workplace efficiency or could be seen as government endorsement of religion. That means federal workers may wear religious head coverings, keep a Bible or Koran on their desk or talk about religion if co-workers do not object, the Times said.

At Ford, workers say an interfaith religious group has helped them forge a new unity. Dan Dunnigan, 46, the network’s chairman, said that after a rough start, employees of different faiths had come to understand one another – so much so that when the group received a piece of hate mail about Islam, he took care of it himself, writing back a thoughtful defense without ever showing it to his Muslim colleague.