Letters

What about workplace discrimination against atheists? Readers respond to Christopher S. Stewart's "Office Politics and God."


Salon Staff
April 22, 2003 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

I have no doubt that religious discrimination is rampant in this country and that any attempt to bring tolerance to the workplace is well worth the effort.

However, let's be clear about what work is. Most people I know sublimate their true selves for the job they wish to keep. They dress differently, alter their speech, keep certain subjects of conversation off limits, smile at assholes, and play by the rules. If my job requires me to wear ugly slacks, am I somehow less entitled to protection under the law because my main complaint is aesthetic and not religious in nature? My love for denim borders on the puritanical. You needn't be religious to find an outfit demeaning.

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This atheist says that smoking a cigarette is just as valid as a prayer break. This nerd knows well enough to stay abreast of the latest sports news. Taking out one's piercings before an interview may be humiliating, but thems the breaks, right?

It's hard. I have unlimited sympathy for every unhappy worker. Discrimination is very real and frequently more active than passive, especially in a bad economy. But religion doesn't get a special pass here unless I have some kind of assurance that I'll start seeing Fubu outfits at staff meetings.

-- Nils Skjodt

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My sympathies to all those, in your article or otherwise, who have been religiously harassed at work; and yet a moment of consideration for those such as myself. As you say, 95 percent of Americans claim some religious affiliation. For those of us atheist and agnostic Americans the situation can be "hell." Even those who have a certain ambivalence to matters of religion, who really would be inclined never to think of such a thing, will ask us incredulously "How can you believe in nothing?" or "Well, where did you come from?" or even, "Aren't you afraid of going to hell?"

As a matter of fact, the only person who ever had anything benign to say about my atheism was a Muslim woman, who said that my unbelief was the reason I could be so tolerant of absolutely everyone else. I believe that the Constitution of the United States gives me the right to be an atheist. And I believe that anyone who endeavors to have legislation passed to accommodate the needs or strictures of religiousness, at my expense, is in violation of the law. But we are in the scant minority, in this country; and to us, the inveterate unbelievers, this United States may as well be under Sharia. I don't think we stand a chance.

-- Marya DeBlasi

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A troubling observation about this article:

  • In the case of Sami Hammoud at Bombardier, he was victimized by co-workers. There was no mention of their names or religions.
  • In the case of Carol Grotts of Brinks, she was victimized by a manager. There was no mention of name or religion.
  • In the case of Bilan Nur of Alamo Rent A Car, she was victimized by the company. There were no names or religions mentioned.
  • In the case of Victoria Levya of the University of Chicago Hospital, she was victimized by Joan Shaw, a Catholic.
  • In the case of Frederick Bock of an international architecture firm, he was victimized by the owner and a supervisor. There were no names or religions mentioned.

    Were all of the editors asleep or should I infer a Salon bias? I am a subscriber and generally agree with your work. I am also angered, offended and disappointed with this piece. You are risking a lot of credibility.

    -- Paul F. Purcell

    As an employee in H.R. in a large company, I felt for the profiled employees, harassed because of ignorance and driven out through inflexibility and, yes, just sheer malice. Strangely enough, my sympathies stem from the opposite side; I am not a religious man by any means, though I work in the Bible Belt. This means being subjected to company prayers and other overt religiosity. Even though my position in H.R. allows me to point out that such overt religiosity (and you should be reading that as "Christianity") should be moderated in the workplace, the culture is so pervasive, change is oftentimes slow-going.

    -- Name Withheld

    Pentacostal Baptist? Good Lord! What's the world coming to? I was raised in the Pentacostal church, and my father would have nothing to do our religion being compared to the Baptist faith, since they believed it was OK to drink beer, curse, dance and go to the movies. But Ms. Leyva shouldn't take it so hard in being persecuted by a Catholic. I'm often harassed and made fun of by my papist girlfriend for my Holy Roller upbringing; but hey: I know that she's just jealous 'cause she never got a snake of her own to play with in church. Pentacostal Baptist, you say? Sounds made-up, though actually it sounds pretty good! You can juggle a snake with one hand and a cold one in the other. I need a witness! Can somebody here get me a witness?

    -- Tim Lightner

    I must admit to a brief visceral thrill upon opening the article. "It's nice to see Christians being discriminated against for once!" I thought, and immediately felt guilty. The people in the article, be they Christians, Muslims, or Jews, are really just people trying to live their lives and make a buck. But as religion in America gets more and more politicized, everyone feels like they're persecuted and enjoys seeing the other side suffer.

    There's a war going on here, between religion and secularism, and it's an ugly one. You're either a heartless, amoral atheist or a crazed abortion-clinic bombing fundie. Except, of course, you're not, because those are the rare extremes of a spectrum. But whatever your side of the spectrum, the other side is alien to you. Non-religious people don't get why religion is so important to those who have one, and religious people don't get why seeing evidence of religion bugs non-religious people so much. (Clumsy terms, I know, but the concise "theist" and "atheist" belong to a non-neutral party.)

    It's a case of cultural misunderstanding, something with which America is deeply familiar. Unfortunately, America also has a long history of protecting cultures while harming cultural relations, so it's no surprise that legal approaches are heavy-handed and do little to solve the problem. It would be nice if people were to put aside their prejudices and try to understand their godless heathen/crazed fundie neighbor, but I'm afraid we're headed for all-out cultural and political warfare.

    -- Renee Grossman

    For every gay and lesbian who has been fired for being out at work. For every time we've been told, "Stay in the closet at work." For putting up with emotional, physical, psychological abuse from teachers, managers, co-workers, students. For being fired for appearing even remotely gay.

    You will not get any sympathy from me. If religious people don't want to be discriminated against at work, they better take a good long look at what they're doing and have been doing for decades to their fellow human beings.

    What goes around comes around. Or what's their line? Something about reaping what you sow?

    It's not fair. It's not just. But as they tell us, and until society goes through a most profound change, that's life.

    -- Rich Kilarski


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