On Friday, the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, a secular organization dedicated to combatting religious prejudice, released the findings of a survey on religion in the American workplace. A key finding is that religious diversity is increasing in the workplace, and with it, increasing problems relating to accommodation.
“Overall, the incidence of workplace conflicts and discrimination over religion seems to be a fairly significant issue, according to the survey, with one-third of respondents reporting that they have seen or experienced incidents of religious bias in the workplace. The most frequently cited problems were not interactions with co-workers but instead related to a failure of companies to provide sufficient accommodations for believers, especially non-Christians. Half of those respondents said that their employers are ignoring their religious needs.” The study pointed out that a key complaint relating to religious accommodation was being forced to work on holy days (24% of respondents had this issue), in addition, atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians tend to feel the most uncomfortable when the topic of religion is brought up. “More than 4-in-10 (43%) atheist and agnostic/secular workers say they feel somewhat or very uncomfortable when the topic of religion comes up. Nearly 3-in-10 (29%) non-Christian workers say they feel somewhat or very uncomfortable when the topic of religion comes up. Conversely, nearly 9-in-10 white evangelical workers say they are somewhat (30%) or very (58%) comfortable when the issue of religion comes up in the workplace.
A University of Derby-led research team has conducted a survey of religious groups, analyzed legal rulings over the last decade, and polled individuals in several cities, with the results finding “substantial” discrimination against religious minorities and new religious movements in the UK. Especially affected groups include Muslims, members of new religious movements, and modern Pagans. “The project’s initial findings have identified […] substantial reporting of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief continuing across key areas of people’s lives […] reports of unfair treatment indicate that it continues to particularly affect certain sectors (employment, education and the media) and religious groups (Muslims, Pagans and New Religious Movements).” Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, told Huffington Post UK that the team noticed a a “particular frequency and severity in the complaints relating to” Pagans and new religious movements. “There are many instances of discrimination against Christians, but the discrimination against new religions is more ‘in-your-face’, verging on hatred. For Pagans, many of them have kept their religion secret, for fear it would be misunderstood.”
With the recent legalizing of same-sex marriages in the state of New York there also came a lot of talk about religious exemptions. These additions to the bill’s language were seen as critical to passage, and they exempt clergy and all religious institutions from having to accommodate same-sex couples looking to get married. During this process of negotiation some wanted even greater exemptions, which would include private businesses owned by individuals who had a religious objection to same-sex marriage. Thankfully, those expanded exemptions did not make it into the final language, and the legal status quo remained in place. Jennifer Pizer, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and an expert on sexual orientation and discrimination, says that’s par for the course in America: You can’t let religious beliefs affect commercial decisions. “People are free to hold these views – they’re not just free to hold those views, they’re protected.” But, she said, “the current legal system does not permit people engaged in business to discriminate based on the proprietors’ own religious views.” Pizer said the New York debate over exemptions hearkens back to a time when religious views were used to justify racial segregation and opposition to equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation.
There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently Osama bin Laden was killed. PNC-Minnesota has reactions from the local Pagan community. Zaratha “will not apologize for rejoicing in Osama bin Laden’s death, ” Lori Dake thanks the troops, Star Foster is conflicted, and Erynn Rowan Laurie wonders if that means the troops get to come home now. The town of Bel Air in Maryland has overturned its total ban on fortune telling.
I have a special editorial up at the Washington Post’s On Faith section about the religiously-motivated firing of Pagans, and the case of Carole A. Smith, who was seemingly fired from the TSA for her adherence to Wicca. What happened to Carole A. Smith is, sadly, all too common a story for many pagans. Smith, a TSA agent in Albany, NY, endured bizarre claims, indifferent superiors, workplace harassment, and finally, termination. Like many pagans, she wasn’t officially fired for being a pagan, but was subject to a “death from a thousand cuts,” where every minor slip-up is obsessively cataloged until a legally acceptable threshold for dismissal is reached. This was starkly conveyed when msnbc.com revealed an email exchange between two of Smith’s supervisors: the first read, “Hammer Time,” with the response, “Not yet – not enough.” Because Smith works at the TSA, a government agency, her story is now making headlines, and her chances of proper legal recourse are increased because of it.