‘Religion-Free’ Zones

Ken Wessner doesn't look like the kind of person who would go around harassing people. The distinguished-looking gentleman with white hair and warm blue eyes is the retired chairman of ServiceMaster, a company that bases its business practices squarely on the word of God. That means employees are treated as persons of value, no matter how menial their jobs. It means customers are treated with integrity. In fact, the company's value statement says explicitly that its guiding principle is to "honor God in all we do." But the federal government may soon define all that as "religious harassment." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently proposed a set of guidelines for protecting workers from what it calls religious harassment. The guidelines are modeled on rules against sexual harassment, defining it as anything that creates an "intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." But who ever came up with the idea of putting religion in the same category as sexual harassment? In essence, Christians who talk about a Bible study they attended would be placed on a par with people who tell dirty jokes around the water cooler. Hanging up a plaque that talks about "honoring God" will be treated the same as hanging up a pinup poster. The irony in all this is that most Americans support the injection of Christian principles into the workplace. Most of us long for more honesty and integrity in business dealings. We promote policies that treat workers with fairness and respect. We respect businesses that care about making products that are genuinely useful, instead of caring only about the bottom line. If this is what we mean by a Christian influence in business, then most Americans would dearly love to see more of it. The EEOC says its only concern is to protect people from harassment because of their religious beliefs. But our laws already give employees ample protection against religious coercion. The real mischief in the EEOC guidelines is that they provide no objective standards. Harassment is defined in purely subjective terms. In essence the guidelines require employers to read the minds of their employees and anticipate anything that might possibly offend them. In this morass of subjectivity, employers will have to play it safe: The only way to avoid the threat of a lawsuit will be to sanitize their businesses of any hint of religious expression. Like the public schools, the workplace will become a religion-free zone. And that would be a tragic violation of the First Amendment rights of Christian employers like Ken Wessner—who merely wants to express the biblical inspiration for his company's high business ethics. EEOC officials are still taking comments from the public before putting the guidelines into effect. So please call or write the acting chairman of the EEOC Tony Gallegos at (202) 663-4264 and ask him to delete religion from the proposed guidelines on harassment. Christian businessmen do a great service in showing us how to apply Christian faith to all of life—including the workplace. And we should be outraged at the EEOC guidelines that treat them as the equivalent of sexual harassers.


Chuck Colson


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