The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn’t think so. It’s suing a residential home service and repair company for violating federal law when it allegedly required employees to participate in religious prayer sessions as a condition of employment and retaliated against employees who opposed the unlawful practice.
Before I detail this new lawsuit, let’s rewind the clock a few days to Monday when the Supreme Court greenlit post-game prayers for a high school football coach and his team at the 50-yard-line. Six Justices concluded that the First Amendment protects an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal. They reasoned that the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression. The three dissenting Justices felt that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible.
The critical element here is a government employer.
The dynamic changes in a private secular workplace. Employees have no First Amendment rights there. Conversely, employers, even non-religious ones, can incorporate prayer into the workday. But employers can’t require prayer sessions. That generally ends badly because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace. It’s one thing to host voluntary prayer sessions at work.
Remember when the EEOC reached a $170,00o consent decree a few years ago. You know the one where the company supposedly required employees to spend at least half their workdays in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, such as screaming at ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving.
Companies that allegedly mandate Christian prayer sessions apparently don’t fare much better. That’s the gist of the lawsuit that the EEOC announced on Tuesday. Here’s more from the press release:
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, since at least June 2020, the company required all employees to attend daily employer-led Christian prayer meetings. The meetings were conducted by the company owner and included Bible readings, Christian devotionals, and solicitation of prayer requests from employees. [The] owner took roll before some of the meetings and reprimanded employees who did not attend.
And God forbid (sorry, I couldn’t resist), an employee wanted to skip a meeting. Two employees allegedly tried that. It didn’t end well.
When a construction manager asked to be excused from the prayer portion of the meetings in the fall of 2020, the defendant company refused to accommodate the employee’s religious beliefs (atheist), cut his pay, and fired him. A few months later, in January 2021, [the company] terminated a customer service representative who stopped attending the prayer meetings because the meetings conflicted with her religious beliefs (agnostic).
Employees shouldn’t have to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their jobs. If private, secular employers host prayer meetings at work, they must accommodate employees with conflicting personal religious or spiritual views.