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April 2, 2020

The Christian's Rights in the Workplace

Os Hillman • Ethics & Values
What are the rights of Christians in the workplace? Can you have a Bible study at work? Can you share the gospel in a workplace? This article helps answer some basic questions on legal rights in the workplace.

This article will largely be helpful only to US subscribers as these do not apply outside the US. However, this might be helpful to know what limits and freedoms we have in the US. The source of much of our data is the American Center for Law and Justice (www.adlj.org). This is a great resource that can answer just about any question you may have on legal rights related to faith issues in the workplace. Most of the content here is directly from their website. I have organized it based on what I think the most common questions would be from our subscribers. Jay Sekulow is their chief counsel who answers the questions below. Contrary to what many liberal advocacy groups would like, there is no law requiring the workplace to be a religion-free zone. Federal and state laws protect the religious freedoms of employers and employees. Employers can run their business in conformance with godly principles, and employees cannot be forced to act in a manner that conflicts with their religious beliefs. For instance, Christian employers may hold and participate in voluntary chapel services and prayer meetings for employees, and employees can share their faith with co-workers during breaks or free time, so long as it is not disruptive.

As our society becomes increasingly more secularized, the ACLJ is regularly asked to advise employers and employees about their right to express their faith in the workplace. The ACLJ is committed to defending the rights of believers in the workplace. Whether it involves the right of a pharmacist to refuse to dispense abortion pills, the right of an employer to pray with willing employees, or the right of a librarian to wear a cross necklace, the ACLJ is on the frontlines against efforts to violate the religious freedoms of believers as employees and employers.

Common Questions on A Christian's Rights in the Workplace.

I'm a school bus driver, and my coworkers and I asked our employer about whether we could start a Bible study at work on our own time. We've been told we have to put it on hold, so they could check with their lawyers. What do you think our rights would be?

Jay answers: Well, number one, especially since it's a county school system that you work for, you should be able to have the Bible study. If they allow employee groups to meet -- to use conference rooms for lunch and those kinds of things -- you should not be denied the right to have a Bible study. There are specific Department of Labor guidelines on this; but more important than the Department of Labor guidelines is the fact that as a public employee, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects your right to the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. So, you have the right to engage in this without any problem. The question in these cases is always this: Are they making this available to others at the workplace? And in your particular case, that's what we have to find out. Are they in fact making room available -- either during a lunch break, or during some other time -- where employees can meet for a variety of purposes? Usually there are a variety of different employee groups that meet. Having a Bible study would not violate the law. It should be allowed, especially in a workplace where the First Amendment applies. So, you should be in good shape there. John, your question is not unusual. There are many organizations, both state organizations and private organizations, that permit employees to gather and meet for Bible study or for discussion about their faith. And this is something that we get questions about very often on "Jay Sekulow Live." There is this misunderstanding out there that somehow bringing anything into play in the workplace that would involve religion, or the study of the Bible, or prayer and worship, or time together for fellowship, would somehow violate the law and create a hostile work environment. That's just not the case. The good news -- and I think it's important to say it -- is that the overwhelming majority of employers are allowing these Bible studies to take place at the workplace without any interference.

I'm a flight controller at Johnson Space Center, which is a federal facility. A group of employees have requested the use of one of the auditoriums for a praise and worship time during lunch. The human resources department here at the space center has denied our request. They said that allowing access to us is outside of the scope of what they're required to do. They did say that we could use the conference room, but that wouldn't hold all the people who want to participate. What are our rights here?

Jay answers: I'm glad you asked, Michael. First, having a Bible study and a time of prayer and worship at the workplace-even a federal workplace-is protected activity. In fact, there are guidelines that were issued by the Labor Department a couple of years ago, which your human resources office should have. Those guidelines actually say that you can have a time of prayer and Bible study at the facilities without any constitutional violation. A couple of years ago, while in Federal Court in Washington, D.C., I noticed an advertisement up on the committee bulletin board announcing a weekly prayer meeting during lunch in a particular conference room inside the Federal Court Building. In your case, you're not even talking about advertising the meeting. The issue that you've got to be concerned about is whether you can require the operators at the Johnson Space Center to allow the use of this auditorium. That depends on whether or not they make the auditorium available to other people. You can't compel them to let you meet in a particular auditorium if it has not been available to anybody else. These types of cases are very fact specific, and yours is an interesting situation. The human resources department here is not saying you can not meet; they're saying, in fact, "You can meet, but we're only going to give you this particular room," which you said you're concerned is not large enough. Again, if the auditorium is not being utilized, there's nothing wrong with providing access to it even if it hasn't been used by other groups. The employer here-the space agency-would not violate federal law by allowing Christian employees to gather for fellowship and prayer.

My husband has his own business, and I have been considering starting a Bible study for the employees either before the workday begins or during lunch break. We have employees who are not Christians, and I was wondering if I would be causing any legal repercussions for my husband by starting this Bible study?

Jay answers: That's a great question. The answer: voluntary Bible studies are perfectly allowed at the workplace. If you have a Bible study, you can encourage participation, but what you can't do is require people to attend or do job performance evaluations based on whether they're attending the Bible study or not. You cannot use Bible study attendance as a litmus test, if you will, but you can certainly offer a Bible study. We had a call come in the other day from a Christian business owner who wanted to give each of his employees a Bible for Christmas, in addition to a Christmas bonus, and that's perfectly allowed as well. The key is not to require attendance. You cannot, and should not, compel attendance. If there are any problems faced by Christians who want to start Bible studies at work, that's where the problems tend to be. So again, as long as you're not requiring attendance, you should have no problem whatsoever. That's a great idea, and voluntary Bible studies have been recognized as legal in the workplace. Let me give you one other suggestion if I may: If you're going to have a Bible study during the break time, make sure everybody else gets the break as well, even if they don't attend the Bible study. And the same thing with lunch-make sure everybody gets the same lunchtime whether they attend Bible study or not; don't let the Bible study go an extra half hour, and everybody else has to get back to work at a particular time that's shorter than that. Make sure everything is equal, and you should have no problems whatsoever. And again-attendance has to be voluntary; it cannot be mandatory.

Is it legal for employers to deny access to company space for Bible study and prayer during lunch hour?

Jay answers: You can't compel the employer to allow the Bible study, but they certainly can allow the Bible study without violating the law. Often, employers think that by allowing a Bible study to take place that somehow they are violating the law, and that is simply not the case. So we want to dispel that myth. Secondly, if there's a conference room available, there's nothing wrong with the employer making it available for those who want to have a Bible study at the workplace. It's perfectly OK, but it's got to be voluntary. Management should not be compelling attendance; people shouldn't be made to feel that their job performance evaluations include whether or not they attend Bible study. Once those safeguards are in place, there should be no difficulty.

For more articles and resources visit www.marketplaceleaders.org. 

For an employer's guide to Christian rights in the workplace, click here.

*Please note: We are not a legal organization and cannot provide legal advice or specific answers to legal questions. For more information please check out the American Center for Law and Justice, the Alliance Defending Freedom, or consult a professional law firm.

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