Questions about religious discrimination in hiring.
March 19, 2006 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Questions about religious discrimination in hiring.

First: I am an atheist. A neighborhood megachurch has a position open in my field, the current crop of applicants is weak, and someone who already works there let me know about it and put in a good word for me. My boss at my existing job is a Christian and we get along just fine, so I have no problem with the work itself. I'd be very interested in not having to drive to work and be close to home, and the work is the same thing I've been doing for years. What concerns me is the application material, quoted below.

"Qualifications:
- Have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
- Active member of [church]
- [experience relevant to the position, etc.]"

Note that this is not a ministerial position or teaching or anything to do with representing the church proper to the public. I am hurt and disappointed and pissed off that the Church materials demand a Christian for a position which anyone qualified could fill regardless of religion. If they ask about my religion, I'll be honest. Should I even go to the interview? Can I start a business and refuse to hire Christians? When did this change? I know they have lawyers; they just applied for and received an exemption to city building codes. I'm sorry if this is rambling, but I honestly am going in a million different directions here and I'm not certain what, if anything, I should do.
posted by Optimus Chyme to Work & Money (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, and as always, feel free to email me at optimuschyme@gmail.com.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:35 PM on March 19, 2006


Churches are exempted from the religious discrimination bit. I doubt you'd be hired.
posted by fshgrl at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2006


(a) This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. [cite]
posted by IshmaelGraves at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2006


Your profile says you're a lawyer. While you may feel that employment as a lawyer for a church doesn't require faith in that religion, the church may not see it that way. You also state that the job you're interested in doesn't involve representing the church to the public. Isn't that precisely what a lawyer does? That church may want an attorney who not only believes in the law, but also believes in their religion. As far as hiring a lawyer goes, personal prejudices, while not cool, often play into the decision - just as it would with any other service provider.

I'm not trying to be argumentative, rather, I am trying to help you see the church's position. I don't agree with it, actually.
posted by MeetMegan at 4:55 PM on March 19, 2006


IsmaelGraves beat me to it.

And yes, many humanist associations are also 501(c)(3) non-profits and exempt from title VII.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2006


Be honest with them, go to the interview. They might still hire you, and then you won't have to pretend.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:01 PM on March 19, 2006


You know what, I think it's worth it to at least show up and make the case that you can do the job without being a Christian. You might also want to mention to them that they can't very well effect the world in any way if they only surround themselves with people who already believe what they do.

Don't make it a legal question, make it a "wouldn't it be good for you to see how an non-believer sees these issues."

Honestly, that's pretty valuable insight for a church that wants to be relevant.
posted by visual mechanic at 5:05 PM on March 19, 2006


MeetMegan: I think Optimus Chyme's profile is intended to satirize some other members of this community who claim to be a lawyer quite often.
posted by grouse at 5:10 PM on March 19, 2006


And yes, many humanist associations are also 501(c)(3) non-profits and exempt from title VII.
Well, no. Only religious organizations are exempt. Other charitable organizations are not. So, no, there aren't any humanist organizations that are exempt from title VII.

Original submitter: they don't want to hire you; you don't want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; why try to force a relationship that neither of you want?
posted by jellicle at 5:14 PM on March 19, 2006


Apply, but as noted above, churches are exempt.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 5:19 PM on March 19, 2006


Thanks, IshmaelGraves and fshgrl for the data, and to the rest of you for the excellent advice.

I am not a lawyer, but a designer.

At this point, fuck 'em. They want someone who's a Christian to the exclusion of someone who can actually do the job well, more power to them.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:20 PM on March 19, 2006


(oops)
posted by MeetMegan at 5:21 PM on March 19, 2006


they don't want to hire you; you don't want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; why try to force a relationship that neither of you want?

My skills have nothing to do my religion or lack thereof, thanks. You may as well decide between qualified applicants based on skin color or sex.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:24 PM on March 19, 2006


I think you should send along your resume and a cover letter, mentioning the person you know, and explaining that although you are not a Christian, you have a solid reputation and you know you could do their message justice. See what happens. Don't dismiss them out of hand just because you think they'll dismiss you out of hand- you might be surprised. Qualifications in a job ad aren't always set in stone.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:25 PM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


jellicle: Well, I misread that part, but I suspect that the definition of religion is probably broad enough for a humanist organization to be exempt:
(j) The term ``religion' includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2006


I can't imagine you'll enjoy working at a job you've already got problems with before you even apply for it. Is the job market so bad that you'd subject yourself to this?

As an atheist you'll undoubtedly have subsequent problems with the work you're asked to do. How would you react to, for example, the request to design an ad that said "If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your saviour you're going to Hell"?

I'm an athiest and I work with people of various religions, but if my job required that I, for example, add reference to intelligent design to the descriptions of the biology units we offer, I'd have a problem with that. If my boss insisted, I'd refuse. This would obviously affect my career.
posted by krisjohn at 5:46 PM on March 19, 2006


Oh, and a quick search revealed Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda and Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia in which the Supreme Court established that secular organizations can be considered religious organizations for tax purposes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:48 PM on March 19, 2006


Is the job market so bad that you'd subject yourself to this?

The commute is. I'm already employed and I love my job, I just hate driving.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:57 PM on March 19, 2006


I'm a Christian, so my $0.02 might be different from other who have posted and I promise I'm not trying to flame bait.

I wonder why someone would want to work at a Christian Church if they were not a Christian. I imagine it would be something like working as a designer for a hockey team and thinking the whole time that hockey is a waste of time.

As a Christian, I think working at a Church would be cool because of the shared fellowship with other Christians, prayer, etc. I think it would be cool for a 'non-believer (what a loaded term)' to work at church because I'd hope they could be exposed to some of the aspects of Christianity that make it attractive to those who are of the 'faith'.

I wonder what an atheist's expectations of working at a church would be? I've never worked at a church, but I'd imagine the work enviornment might be slightly different from the average workplace.


Having said all that, I don't think they should not hire you because you're an atheist. But I wouldn't expect your beliefs to never come up. After all, you'd be working for a 'company' that deals mainly in beliefs.
posted by tayknight at 6:03 PM on March 19, 2006


I would just like to point out that it doesn't exactly say you have to be a Christian.

"Qualifications:
- Have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
- Active member of [church]
- [experience relevant to the position, etc.]"

You could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and attend church without being a Christian. What about trying that?
posted by visual mechanic at 6:20 PM on March 19, 2006


visual mechanic: Having a personal relationship with a dead guy probably requires either a certain amount of religious belief, or a certain amount of lying.

tayknight:
I wonder what an atheist's expectations of working at a church would be?
I would expect many elements of faith to interfere with the job at hand. I would expect that I would get into a number of "heated debates" about the nature of science, or fact in general. I would expect that I wouldn't last past the initial 2 month trial period.

Then again, if it was Uniting Church like my high school, I might expect that religion would have little or nothing to do with anything.
posted by krisjohn at 6:43 PM on March 19, 2006


Once during a 4 month unemployment I applied for an IT job at Joyce Meyer Ministries out in Fenton. They sent me an 8 or 10 page pdf asking about my relationship with god and whether I smoke or drank, etc. I'm pretty sure I kept this and if anyone wants it, email is in profile.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:30 PM on March 19, 2006


Hmm, I'm surprised by some of these reactions.

I hold a job for which a qualification is at least a BA. I have but a high school diploma. But they liked me, and I liked them, so I have the job.

So, yes, of course you should get an interview. Maybe I'm mistaking the tone (this IS the internet, where tone is easily misjudged, so forgive me if I'm wrong) of your comments, but you seem kinda angry about this situation. But ALL employers put down qualifications that would exclude some people. Part of getting any job is showing the employer that you can do the job despite any on-paper lackings that might be a problem, were it not for what a great designer you are, or what a joy you are to work with. Apply! Be honest! At the very least, it'll be an enlightening experience for either you or them. And good luck!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:37 PM on March 19, 2006


"I wonder what an atheist's expectations of working at a church would be? I've never worked at a church, but I'd imagine the work enviornment might be slightly different from the average workplace."

Well, some of us actually want to go to our place of employment to do the job that we were hired to do. I generally try to keep religion & politics out of the workplace. And children. Leave the damn things at home. Gah.

But the OP does have a point - his religion (or lack of) shouldn't really have any bearing on his employment. Sad to see that churches are able to discriminate as they are.
posted by drstein at 8:00 PM on March 19, 2006


Several people, including Optimus, the poster of the question, keep talking about "to do the job that we were hired to do" as if it were divorced from the client. While I do not expect that a church as client will insist that the lawyer play for the same team, I can see how it would want a lawyer who at least plays in the same league. The client wants a lawyer who will have some sense of congruence with its mission. Optimus is not optimal for this job.

Sure, it's discrimination, but it's allowed under state law. And most of us can understand why.
posted by yclipse at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2006


re: personal relationship. . .

the word "personal" has many definitions, one of which is "private" or "none of your business" so just say that you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ meaning that it's a relationship that is none of their concern.
posted by visual mechanic at 8:54 PM on March 19, 2006


tayknight writes "I wonder why someone would want to work at a Christian Church if they were not a Christian. I imagine it would be something like working as a designer for a hockey team and thinking the whole time that hockey is a waste of time."

Um, most people in the world work because they need to earn a living? They can't all afford to be picky about the natures of the organizations they work for.
posted by apple scruff at 9:05 PM on March 19, 2006


you seem kinda angry about this situation . . . employers put down qualifications that would exclude some people

It's upsetting to be disqualified for religious reasons having nothing to do with the actual position, yes. I think a few of you don't understand what designers do. We are mercenaries. We will do the dumbest shit you can imagine because that's what people insist on. For me, designing an ad saying "If you don't believe in Jesus you are going to hell" is both funny and nothing compared to some of the ridiculously lame projects I've had to do in the past.

In any case, I've decided that I don't want to work with anyone who would discriminate on religious grounds, even if it's legal and even if they'd make an exception for me. They can reap what they sow.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:27 PM on March 19, 2006


Optimus, my child, have you not considered the reaction of the congregation when it becomes known that an atheist has a "perfectly good job that one of us should have"? A little pity for the pastor, please!
posted by Cranberry at 10:50 PM on March 19, 2006


As a personal anecdote, I work at a Christian organization (not a church), and there are similar requirements for open positions. An applicant's faith and beliefs come up in the interview, where the applicant is expected to give a brief testimony of how they came to be a Christian. The staff is required to start each day with prayer. My organization would never consider hiring a non-believer, let alone an atheist. And I can guarantee an atheist wouldn't enjoy working there.
posted by rhapsodie at 12:33 AM on March 20, 2006


I imagine it would be something like working as a designer for a hockey team and thinking the whole time that hockey is a waste of time.

I'm sure there are a lot of people who work for hockey teams who think hockey is a waste of time. I personally have spent years doing proofreading and editing for accounting and advertising firms I despised. If you've had the luxury of working only for people you loved and respected and were in entire agreement with, good for you, but it boggles my mind that you've somehow missed the fact that most people work because somebody's willing to pay them money to do a job.

Optimus, I totally sympathize with your feelings, but I'd suggest at least giving it a shot; it could be that the guy who interviews you will roll his eyes about the listed requirements and say "Those idiots insist on putting that in, but all I care about is someone who can do the job, and you look like a great fit." You could wind up with decent pay and a great commute. What do you lose by trying?

Sure, it's discrimination, but it's allowed under state law. And most of us can understand why.

Speak for yourself, unless by "understand why" you mean "understand that the state is corrupt and in bed with both Big Religion and Big Business."

While I do not expect that a church as client will insist that the lawyer play for the same team, I can see how it would want a lawyer who at least plays in the same league.

He's NOT A LAWYER! Jesus!
posted by languagehat at 6:43 AM on March 20, 2006


You may as well decide between qualified applicants based on skin color or sex.

How is this accurate for this situation? There are a number of roles where sex/gender are important due to the sensitivity of others -- few men work at shelters for abused women, and I doubt the KKK would employ any black men, even if they wanted to be employed in a non-public role like graphic designer.

You likely won't be seen by the public, but it's a role that people see as integral to their message -- you'd be designing the materials that help the church to communicate what they believe to be God's message. It's possible that you don't see this as a problem might be proof to them in itself that you don't understand why the requirement is important.
posted by mikeh at 8:02 AM on March 20, 2006


I doubt the KKK would employ any black men

Yes, we should should base our hiring practices on what the Klan would do in a similar situation.

you'd be designing the materials that help the church to communicate what they believe to be God's message

I have designed hundreds of projects for dozens of churches and had no complaints. Like I've said: I'm done with them and I don't give a shit. They can hire a Collins graduate whose favorite typeface is Comic Sans and who thinks drop shadows are the height of elegance.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:20 AM on March 20, 2006


I am a designer at a megachurch.

We hire from the pool of church attenders. Yes, because we want our employees to be Christians, but also because we want them all to be on the same team - that means attending megachurch on Sunday and being involved in other megachurch activities. If you think that you would be a part of that team, you are wrong. I doubt that the beef council hires a lot of vegetarians. Why? Because they don't believe in what the beef council is selling. And you don't believe in what megachurch is selling.
posted by clh at 11:14 AM on March 20, 2006


If you think that you would be a part of that team, you are wrong.


posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:31 AM on March 20, 2006


You're hired!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:24 PM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


nice design, Optimus Chyme.
posted by Cranberry at 4:29 PM on March 20, 2006


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