This question was asked of the New York Times’ “Workologist” (It’s stuff like this that keeps me subscribed despite the paper’s disgraceful partisan bias and unocnscionable manipulation of the news):
I recently had a manager ask me if I have “prayed about” a particular situation at the office… this statement crossed a personal line with me. I am very private about my religious life. Do you have any recommendations on how I could handle this?
The question immediately reminded me of “Breach,” the film about the capture of spy Robert Hannsen (Chris Cooper), who was always urging his clerk (actually the undercover FBO agent recruited to unmask him) to pray. The “Workologist” (Rob Walker) begins by pointing out the obvious: a boss can’t demand that you pray, or fire you for refusing to. Then he adds,
Your manager can’t discriminate against you on the basis of religion, but your company can’t discriminate against him, either — by, say, forbidding him to ever mention prayer. In general, companies are supposed to make an effort to accommodate the religious practices of employees, although this can be weighed against the potential burden on the employer…Faith-related workplace conflicts and litigation have become more common in recent years. So it might be better to think about this incident in the broader context of personal expression and identity…
your best move is to make your own boundaries clear — yet also try to avoid an outright conflict. The fact that you already consider him your “worst manager” might make that difficult. But simply declaring his question inappropriate or offensive won’t help.
Instead, try something like “Well, I’ve thought about it,” and either leave it there or, if that doesn’t seem to connect, add something like “But I’m not comfortable talking about what I do or don’t pray about.” This should be delivered in a friendly-to-neutral tone. You’re not making any judgments — and neither should he.
I find that approach cowardly and dishonest. Continue reading