Ask Richard: When is Religion at Work Acceptable or Improper?

Note: I have edited and paraphrased these two letters to protect the privacy of the writers, whose jobs might be jeopardized. I indicate where I have completely summarized with italics and parentheses. However, I have made every effort to preserve both the essence and the intentions of what was said.

Dear Richard,

I work for a large agency funded by the government of a southern state with taxpayer dollars. Recently, every employee in our organization received a long e-mail from our outgoing departmental supervisor that thanked the whole agency for its hard work throughout her tenure, and credited other officials whom she deemed very hardworking and invaluable.

However, the last three paragraphs of her e-mail concerned me:

(The supervisor thanked everyone for the privilege of serving with them, saying that it was an honor to have been a part of it. She talked about looking to her most important source for guidance as she faced difficult challenges daily at work, meaning God. She said that she reads a daily religious affirmation online, and that shortly after she had tendered her resignation, the daily message was very pertinent, and it had relieved the last doubts she had had about making that decision.

The message was about employment, and how one’s work can be an expression of one’s spiritual life and commitment to serving both God as well as other human beings. It went on to talk about working with integrity and reliability, and feeling gratitude for all the people with whom one works. It concluded with a statement about giving and receiving joy in the workplace, and about expressing devotion to God through service to others.)

Obviously writing her back and addressing her role as a state representative who is (indirectly?) endorsing a particular religion concerns me and my job, but I think it’s something more state bureaucrats should be made aware of in a civil way. This is not the first mention of the Judeo-Christian god by employees at my agency, but the remarks from this very high ranking official has caused me to write you. I have considered e-mailing her anonymously from an account outside of our state’s e-mail system, but this will not be seen by other employees nor do I think even a civil critique of her actions would give her any real incentive to write another e-mail out addressing what she has done and why it’s unethical on principle. I have no personal contact with this official, so I am unsure how I should address this. I cannot let this go unchecked, especially as a state employee myself and considering we have hundreds of other state employees who are of other faiths and of no faith, such as myself. How should I handle this?

An atheist bureaucrat

Dear atheist bureaucrat,

Like you, I think it’s very important to keep church and state separate, but I don’t think the wall has been breached here.

She’s resigning, leaving, on her way out, saying goodbye. On occasions like these, it’s a common custom to allow a person to let their hair down a bit and express themselves from the heart. She is speaking as a private person in this letter, not as a state employed supervisor. She is sharing how she personally found these spiritual affirmations helpful for guidance and inspiration. She’s not talking about where the agency should go in the future, she’s sharing how she got through it in the past. Also, considering the second thoughts that pester people who wrestle with decisions to resign, it is understandable that she would want to express her feelings of relief and certainty that she’d done the right thing.

Even though she sent this through the agency email to every employee, I do not see how anyone would mistake this as the state agency’s endorsement of a particular religion, or her proselytizing. She’s saying, “Hey it’s been a challenge and a pleasure, and I just wanted to share that my faith in God was very helpful to me. Bye.”

I read nothing there that either explicitly or implicitly said that employees should follow her religious views. I read nothing that stated or suggested that the agency has a mission, a duty or a role to endorse or promote her religion or any other religion. Farewell statements by already resigned bosses do not set or express policy. High ranking or not, on her last day she gets to be a person, and I must say, it was pretty positive stuff. Even Presidents get to go to church once in a while or say “God bless America” at the end of a speech without it becoming a Constitutional crisis.

Let it go. The ethical impropriety in this needs a microscope to be seen. She used the agency email system for a goodbye letter and she mentioned that God was helpful to just herself. Big deal.

Now, if the incoming supervisor were to send an email introducing himself or herself with heavy references to religion and passages of scripture, or sent daily spiritual/religious affirmations to all the employees, or started every staff meeting with a prayer, or talked about God this, and God that, during interviews, that kind of thing would be inappropriate and would be important to correct.

Save your energy and ammo for the bigger battles. I’m sure you’ll have some.

Richard

Dear Richard,

I work for a very large Federal department, and my agency functions as the accounting and finance division for the whole department. We have several thousand people in my building alone, and there are several other sites around the world. Most employees seem to be Christians.

My problem lies with our “meditation room” which is actually a Christian church within the building. I believe it is merely labeled a meditation room to avoid lawsuits. In this room there is a daily church service being held. It is even advertised in our news letter. I went to see this room for the first time the other day and was shocked to see it is filled with rows of pews, bibles, and a 5 foot wooden cross. How can this room not be declared unconstitutional? What course of action can I take to shut this place down. I do not want to bring a lawsuit because it would drastically hurt both my career and my wife’s career. Is there any organization which would take up the lawsuit without my name being in it?

Thanks,
Louis

Dear Louis,

I call things like this workplace indulgences. Some companies provide gymnasiums, lounges for socializing, libraries or quiet reading rooms, day care centers for small children, jogging trails around the grounds, even napping rooms with cots, all sorts of things that may keep the employees healthy and happy, and hopefully more productive.

Yes, the euphemistically named “meditation room” is clearly decked out as a chapel, although I suppose one could practice any religious or secular method of quiet meditation in there. If I want a quiet place to sit still and concentrate on my breathing, I don’t give a damn (if you’ll excuse the expression) that there’s a couple of intersecting two-by fours bolted to the wall. Gongs, bells, or chanting might disturb others, so such conflicting uses would need to be scheduled around each other and announced in that company newsletter.

But the question is, does this room cross the line between a benign indulgence of employees’ personal religious practice, and an unconstitutional establishment/endorsement of a specific religion?

You might contact the ACLU or Americans for Separation of Church and State for advice since they have experience with such situations, but I think they will ask you questions similar to some that come up in my mind:

Is it equitable? In order to avoid violating the non-establishment clause, the everybody-or-nobody rule seems to apply to religious indulgences on government property, including holiday displays. Is the meditation room open for anyone to use at any time, or is it locked when not being used for specifically Christian services? If anyone asks for a different room to be used for Muslim prayer, will that be provided? If nobody has requested that room or another room specifically for Buddhist or Jewish or Hindu or Pagan or whatnot religious activities, then that rule hasn’t been tested yet, and you don’t know if it’s equitable.

Does it interfere with the agency’s task? You’ve said that several thousand people work there, in what I assume is a very large building. Are there many rooms that are unused or under used, or is the work already hampered by overcrowding?

There have been some recent court decisions in cases filed just on the principle of keeping religious things out of government, and the trend has been for the courts to insist that the plaintiffs demonstrate that they have “standing.” That means that they have been significantly negatively effected. If there is no harm done, there is not much justification for legal action. The courts are not very interested in hearing such cases on principle alone. The general taxpaying public would have standing if the meditation room actually impedes the work they are paying your agency to do.

Who’s paying for the stuff in the room? Other than the square footage, of which your building may have a surplus or a shortage, was taxpayer money spent to furnish and equip the room, or was that donated by the employees who use the room?

Do you or other employees have “standing?” Does the existence of this room significantly effect you or others detrimentally? If the room merely annoys you, that probably wouldn’t be seen as a legitimate complaint. If someone is being harmed in some way, the people being effected would have to be willing to make formal complaints at first, and then if necessary, file lawsuits as named plaintiffs. You’ve indicated that you wouldn’t want to risk that.

Other questions would include finding and proving whether or not there is a culture of bias in hiring or promoting that favors people who use the room or who openly demonstrate their Christianity, or that Christianity improperly influences the work that your government agency does.

The answers to the above questions will lend insight to the harder essential question, is this room really an improper government agency endorsement of Christianity, or is it nothing more than a workplace indulgence given to those Christians who asked for it to use on their own time?

If the room doesn’t involve any of these problems, then I don’t really see what would make it so objectionable, either legally or personally.

Louis, there is one way that you might get answers to some of these questions without tipping your hand that you object to the meditation room. Ask whomever would be the right person if it would be possible to create an employee library and reading room. Propose a place for quiet reading and a communal collection of used books and magazines donated by employees. It doesn’t matter whether you intend to follow through with it. This would be an opportunity to ask questions.

Keep your intentions sounding simple and innocuous. This way you may gain insight about how properly or improperly the meditation room was indulged by the administration. Pretending innocence, ask about furnishing the room. You’ll need tables, chairs and a bookshelf. Ask, “for instance,” where did the meditation room get those nice pews and the Bibles? The answers to your questions and whatever else the administration says could be very enlightening. If they say sorry, you can’t have the reading room because the building’s too crowded, or some other problem that was not an obstacle for the meditation room, then that may be evidence of favoring a religious over a secular workplace indulgence.

And if you follow through, you might even get a nice reading room and library. You could add a few scientific, secular, humanist and atheist books and magazines into the communal collection, just to see what happens.

Richard

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Allison

    Good advice on these two. It’s important that even as we struggle for our own freedom from religion that we not remove anyone else’s freedom *of* religion.

    Kudos.

  • Tony

    Yeah for both of these I’d file them under “not a problem”.

  • http://alessamendes.blogspot.com Alessa Mendes

    I agree – nothing to be done.

    HOWEVER, if there was a room filled with Atheist books and media, believers would complain. It’s a double-standard, and it’s irritating.

  • martin

    I think for the second asker, I like the idea of planning a library to ask where they got the money for the church getup in the meditation room, but I would also test establishment by just placing some type of other religious reading materials in the meditation room, and then afterwards some atheist materials.

    I have a strong feeling that nothing is really being violated, but it should really be tested and found out.

    As for the first one, definately not a problem. The person is leaving and just writing about her experience. If we take that right away, we are no better than we say they are. And anyways, its not like they can repremand her or fire her… :D

  • Michelle

    Most excellent Richard. I mean wonderfully tolerant, articulate and just fantastic.

    I don’t think we should go to extremes to remove religion from our sight even if it is on government property. If it’s not hurting, or causing something negative in your life, you are just whining in my opinion.

  • littlejohn

    Annoying coworker? Have her destroyed.

  • DGKnipfer

    It sounds very much as if somebody is looking for a reason to be offended. People can be offensive enough without hunting for reasons. Going away letters and meditation rooms are the least of our worries.

  • Tim Carroll

    While I definitely agree with the first, I am not at all sure that I agree with the second response. This is a Federal Building with a CHAPEL in it. I would feel differently if the room was simply made available to groups of christian employees, but the room would logically be available to all employees, and therefore the pews, bibles and cross are most definitely out of place.
    I can think of no reason that bibles and crosses should be banned, necessarily, if used by groups of employees, paricularly at times when they are not getting paid federal money. But, to have these items in place as fixtures is most blatantly discriminatory, in part because they require that a non-religious group would have to request their removal in order to use the space.
    If the feds provided non-theists, and members of other faiths with equal provision (ie., and the props required) then perhaps I would think differently. Until they do, I think this is wrong.

  • TychaBrahe

    Tim, I agree.

    Let’s say that the meditation room didn’t have pews, but chairs. And let’s say that on the wall opposite the cross there was a large white space or screen, and old movies were shown during lunch or during scheduled breaks during particularly stressful periods. And on another wall was a showcase of office bowling leagues, fishing tournaments, picnics, family carnival nights, photos of staff members’ new babies or weddings or graduation ceremonies, and other optional after-work activities. In other words, the room was clearly intended to serve a variety of purposes for a variety of audiences, it would bother me a great deal less.

    The hospital where my mother works has a similar room. Of course, it is called “The Chapel” and my mother works for Catholic Health Partners. I would be very disturbed to know that a room had been set aside in my non-religious place of employment to serve the needs of the few at the expense of the many.

    Look at it another way. Suppose that a large number of people there are Star Trek fans, and it comforts them to sit in an environment similar to the Star Trek bridge and watch a projected image of stars in motion (Windows screensaver – easy to replicate). And lets say a minority of people do not like or get Star Trek. They fish or go bowling or watch Seinfeld to relax. If the company built a Star Trek simulation room that did not provide space for those who do not like Star Trek to de-stress, it would be inherently unfair. Either provide for all or provide for none.

  • MarkP

    I disagree with you Tim. It is not clear that the “feds” provided the xtian adornments in the room, so it is not clear that they should provide alternative materials. I agree with Richard that it is necessary to probe the matter before trying to get it removed. It is entirely possible that, should employees request, provisions will be made to get the pews out of the way for other meditation/relaxation activities.

    If it becomes clear that government money was spent on the xtian materials, but won’t be spent on alternatives- then, and only then, does it become clear that something needs to be done.

  • S

    I don’t think it matters whether the employer sprung for the Xtian stuff, although if they DID, it is blatantly wrong with no room for interpretation.

    The fact that this is a permanently established chapel makes it endorsed by the employer. The cross is bolted to the wall. If jews were, for instance, to request the use of the room, they would most likely want that cross removed or at the very least, covered. If all the paraphernalia were kept in a closet and there were chairs rather than pews and the Xtians could use the space but needed to put the “chapel” away and make it a neutral room when they left, that would be one thing, but that isn’t what has happened here. It is a permanent chapel that other cannot easily convert from a chapel to feel comfortable in..

  • Peregrine

    Something tangentially related occurred to me yesterday. As I was leaving work, there was a fella in the corridor. This corridor is shared between our business, another office, and a gym. All private businesses, and not federally funded, so there’s one difference right off the top. I realized I left my watch on my desk, so I ran back to get it, and on my way out again, I saw the guy with his coat spread out on the floor, kneeling on his coat, and bowing facing the wall. Thinking about it a moment, I realized that he was facing east, so it must be prayer time.

    I thought nothing of it. But when I got on the elevator, one of my coworkers from another team was there, and asked “What was he doing?”

    “Praying,” I said.

    “Weird,” he said. “Why would he do it there?” or words to that effect.

    “Wherever they happen to be when the time comes, I guess” I shrugged.

    “Still, it freaks me out,” he said.

    Why? I thought. If he saw me meditating in the hallway, would that freak him out? Maybe it would, I don’t know.

    I don’t know where the praying fella was coming from; whether he was working at one of the two businesses, or working out at the gym. But it’s a pretty low traffic corridor. He could have been a shopper at the mall downstairs, who found a quiet place to pray while he was uptown. The nearest mosque is on the university campus for the international students, and the next closest one I think is on the other side of town. So… any port in a storm, I guess.

    But it did get me thinking; if he was an employee, both offices have boardrooms that are unused most of the time. Surely he could request the use of one of those for the few minutes. Of course, it would be only fair to extend the same courtesy to all staff.

    I don’t really need a room to meditate. I meditate at home in the morning. It’s not really as central to my practice as prayer time would be for a Muslim. But if there was a room there, that I could retreat to when feeling stressed, to go for a break, and practice, or decompress, or whatever… And others had free access to that space for their thing, or just to read, lounge, nap, whatever, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.

    But cramming that space full of pews, crosses, and Christian literature makes it fairly obvious what it’s for. It is a chapel, nothing more. I’d be tempted to request that space for a meditation group or something, just to see what they’d say. Most Buddhists wouldn’t let the crosses bother them, but other groups might, and might ask that they be stashed away somewhere. If there are any Muslims or Jews at your office, you could team up with them and request the use of the space, just to make sure that they’re willing to extend the courtesy to everyone.

  • Erp

    The second is dicier as it seems the space seems to have been marked out as ‘Christian’. Better to have a plain room that is usable by all (atheists might be able to handle crosses but I suspect religious Jews might feel far less comfortable). The specifically religious items can be stored in an easily accessible place for use when needed.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I’m pretty surprised by the responses that the second situation is OK, or even borderline. It looks to me to be an extraordinarily clear violation of the Establishment Clause. The state is directly supporing a Christian church and advertising Christian services. How is this conceivably consistent with church-state separation?

    I don’t see why more information is needed to see whether this is constitutionally acceptable. It’s irrelevant whether the cross and the Bibles are paid for with state funds or donated—the room was built with state funds, and the government is clearly directly supporting Christianity by providing space for a Christian church. Nor is it relevant whether the building currently has a surplus of room; building and maintaining the room is not costless, so if the government was not providing that space, whoever runs the services would have to pay for that space (just try going to unused office space and asking the owners to have it rent-free, since no one else is using it). The government is thus directly subsidizing Christian services. Nor do I see that its necessary to test whether other religions will be permitted to have separate, unconstitutional, synagogues, mosques, and atheist reading rooms in the building. In other cases involving displays of religious symbols on public land, that test is relevant to see if the space is a public forum, in which anyone is free to come and display in the space (possibly subject to mild, content-neutral, logistical requirements). The state cannot plausibly claim that a closed chapel with a permanently affixed cross, pews, and Bibles, inside a government building is a public forum; not is it possible to think that any employee at any time, can commandeer a room in the building for whatever secular or religious message they desire. There is simply no way that this is a public forum, and no additional tests are necessary.

    However, I do agree that a lawsuit requires standing, which requires an employee’s name on the lawsuit.

  • Richard Wade

    Autumnal Harvest,
    Your arguments are very persuasive. I’m beginning to think that my initial thoughts might have been incorrect.

    I would love to see your and my ideas argued in court, although I think it’s not likely that anyone with their job or their promotion or their social standing at stake would want to risk the fallout from filing a complaint, and then if necessary, a lawsuit. It would be fun for us to watch, but no fun for those involved.

  • MLB

    First of all, let’s get it correct about this so called “separation of church and state”. It does not exist in the Constitution nor law. How this phrasing came about was when Baptist Ministers in Danbury Conn wrote to Thomas Jefferson concerned about the US govt setting up govt religion like in England. If you recall your history, King Henry VIII established the Anglican church bc the Pope would not “bless” his divorce. So , he created his own church and was the head of it. Thomas Jefferson , in his response letter assured them he would basically keep the two separated so as to not do what King Henry did.

    Now, in the 1940s, the US Sup Ct issued an opinion ,authored by a Justice who at one time belonged to the KKK, and coined a phrase alluding to Jefferson’s response to the Danbury ministers.

    What I constantly see on this website, is the continued attack at Christians. What is it that offends people so much about God and Jesus? Why are not you all protesting the Mosques openly, and verbally trashing the Islamic Clerics like you do Christians?
    Could it be you might get shot or blown up?

    Or is that when you read the Bible , and it discusses behaviors that are sinful , and can send one to hell, that it offends people who are in fact committing say, theft, lying, cheating, adultery, etc…

    We in America, seem to think we can do what we want, when we want, with no consequences.

    That has caused the the downfall of many empires, and clearly the US is headed into moral decay just like Rome.

    But hey, you wanted freedom to do what you want, and you got it, and look what it reaped.

  • Richard Wade

    MLB,
    You are not practicing the religion that you would be practicing if your freedom of religion was not guaranteed by the Constitution and the First Amendment. You, as a believer should be very adamant about keeping government out of religion and religion out of government. They corrupt each other. The founding fathers had the horrors of European state religions fresh in their minds when they established a secular government. If the state ever establishes a national religion, you will be the first to complain, because it won’t be to your liking. Don’t be naive. You will not be worshiping as you see fit, but as the state dictates. When has the government ever handled something precious to you in a way that you completely approved of?

    You clucking at us about wanting freedom to do what we want is ironic, since you’re exercising that very same freedom right now, by expressing yourself. If some authority had the power to take away the freedoms of which you disapprove, it would eventually get around to taking away the freedoms that you take for granted.

    I and most of the people on this site don’t “attack Christians” as you put it. We counter-attack incessant Christian attempts to undermine our freedom to think freely, AND THAT INCLUDES YOUR FREEDOM TOO.

    Enjoying your freedom of religion? You can thank a lot of non-believers as well as believers who gave their lives for your freedom.

    As for the mosques and Islamic clerics, when they start trying to establish a theocracy in the U.S. as voraciously as do many American Christians, you can be assured we’ll be in their faces as well. I hope we’ll see you there standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us. Not against any particular religion, but for all of our freedom.

  • MarkP

    Autumnal Harvest said

    Nor do I see that its necessary to test whether other religions will be permitted to have separate, unconstitutional, synagogues, mosques, and atheist reading rooms in the building

    I agree that the availability of a separate room is not at issue. What is at issue, however, is whether the room is inherently sponsoring Christianity. I agree that the bibles and cross appear to be doing so, but without more information on the origin of those items and the ability for others to put up different symbols, it cannot be shown that the government is sponsoring Christianity to the exclusion of other (non-)beliefs.

    The room could easily be viewed as a public forum if the space is equally open to the display of other religious or meditation related objects. I agree that the room, as described above, seems sketchy, but more information is required.

    The newsletter is a similar issue: what is required to get other secular or religiously oriented events included? If preference is given to Christian events, it is a problem. If it is just that only Christians have tried to promote their events, it is not (yet) a problem.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Do you or other employees have “standing?” Does the existence of this room significantly effect you or others detrimentally? If the room merely annoys you, that probably wouldn’t be seen as a legitimate complaint.

    Richard, I agree, and it disgusts me that I’m forced to. The key word here is “seen.” It is a legitimate complaint, but we’ve learned, as the result of lawsuits in the past, that it isn’t enough to demonstrate that the government is respecting an establishment of a religion, as the first amendment bars; instead, we have to demonstrate that this behavior somehow harms us. Somehow, the constitution isn’t enough anymore. A complaint isn’t seen as legitimate simply because it’s about something that violates our founding documents, and that makes it irritatingly difficult to make real change when it’s warranted.

    Or is that when you read the Bible , and it discusses behaviors that are sinful , and can send one to hell, that it offends people who are in fact committing say, theft, lying, cheating, adultery, etc…

    All things demonstrated quite nicely by God’s prophets and “chosen people” in the Bible. Seriously, have you read that thing? It’s just chock-full of God and his folks doing things that are apparently wrong for us to do.

  • muggle

    I have to agree with those who find the second a blatant violation. It’s a church and, frankly, I couldn’t meditate with the two by four’s on the wall. The message that sends is the reason why. I’d be too infuriated.

    However, to do anything about it, the employee would have to risk speaking out.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I’m in a tangentially similar situation. I work for a government-owned, contractor-run nuclear propulsion lab. One of the officially-sanctioned employee organizations has been soliciting volunteers for the Salvation Army’s bellringer program, the proceeds of which they claim go 100% toward helping the needy in our area. I know that this is absolute hogwash; the SA is, after all, a legally-registered church, and they spend approximately equal amounts of their income on churches and evangelism as they do for community programs. I highly, highly doubt that none of the bell-ringing campaign income goes straight toward helping a church.

    Not to mention the SA’s history of discrimination against gay and lesbian couples – surprising, considering their mission:

    Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

    In effect, what this means is that on company time and using company assets which are funded by your taxes, employees working at a government research agency are promoting donation to a discriminating church, with no oversight whatsoever as to where the money goes.

    That bothers me greatly.

    Of course, if I say anything about it, I’ll be the atheist who hates Christmas, the poor and needy, baby Jesus, etc., rather than someone who actually gives a damn about the Constitution.

  • prospera

    The First Amendment states:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    I don’t see how the meditation room is in violation of that.
    If the Christians are the only employees using the room and want to display Christian symbols there, I don’t think it should be an issue. I don’t see a problem with it unless other groups wanting to use the space objected to the symbols or if they were not allowed access to the same space.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Did you really miss this bit?

    In this room there is a daily church service being held. It is even advertised in our news letter. I went to see this room for the first time the other day and was shocked to see it is filled with rows of pews, bibles, and a 5 foot wooden cross.

    The name “meditation room” is a transparent cover for “Christian chapel”.

  • Tim Carroll

    MLB –
    a) How many mosques have you seen on federal property? I’ve yet to even hear of one. I don’t think I’ve heard of any synagogues, either. By allowing pews, and a cross, the federal authorities are establishing the preference for a particular religion. Allowing Jews, Muslims, or anyone else is, as far as I am concerned, besides the point because it forces those peoples to either physically remove those objects or have to put up with them. That is preferential treatment respecting religion by the law.
    b) The idea that anyone in this thread is “attacking” christians or christianity is fallacious and childish. Your remarks regarding anybody’s supposed sins, and attributing them to their attitudes is doubly so.
    c) As to the fall of civilizations being to to their lack of religion or their sinful nature, I think you really need to take a good look at current affairs and history. Your claims, particularly regarding Rome, are ridiculous. The fall of Rome happened only after the rise if the Roman church (in the first place), and was due more to the power gained by the people that were ruled by Rome in the middle east and in eurpope than it was to the “evil” behaviors of anyone.

  • Tim Carroll

    MarkP, I recognize that it is not clear who provided the props in question. Even still, there is a legally established chapel, with particular religious properties.
    Jews, Muslims, and non-religious people (at very least, the writer) clearly feel that their position would be made uncomfortable (at least) by objecting, or by requesting removal of these ojects. Whether this is based on reality, or merely personal trepidation, or whatever, they should not be made to feel so.
    Also, I am not suggesting action of any kind. It is not my place to do so, as I am not affected either materially or personally by this situation. So, while this is true, I still believe that the situation as described is wrong – whether it is legal or not.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    As Richard said, I wouldn’t worry about the person sending some religious content in their goodbye message. Let it slide.

    As far as the Meditation room… Perhaps you could ask for them to make room (remove some pews) for some Yoga mats for people to actually practice meditation. Perhaps with this strategy, the chapel could slowly be converted into a legitimate “meditation room”. The people wanting to use it for a church service can do so by using folding chairs. The room should be multi-purpose, though.

  • Peregrine

    The question I have is, what is the federal department where this chapel is located? Is it something like a hospital? Or military? Is there a paid or volunteer chaplain who uses the space?

    I’d imagine it would depends in part on what the department’s day to day business involves. A hospital could well make use of a chapel. I wouldn’t complain about that, unless the general public were bared. And the military at least has a president about that sort of thing, and are increasingly moving towards being inclusive of other religious groups. So those cases are understandable to a certain extent. But what other federal departments would need a chapel? And what the heck for? I can’t imagine the IRS needs a chapel… unless they feel really guilty about something.

  • MarkP

    Tim said

    Jews, Muslims, and non-religious people (at very least, the writer) clearly feel that their position would be made uncomfortable (at least) by objecting, or by requesting removal of these ojects

    But from the original post:

    I went to see this room for the first time the other day…

    Really suggests that it isn’t affecting the writer in any particular way. It is possible that the room has become more xtian than is reasonable. But pews are not unique to xtianity and can be used for other purposes. The establishment clause hinges on whether a preference is being given, not on who chooses to use the room.

  • prospera

    Did you really miss this bit?

    No. I did not miss it.

    Louis states in his letter:

    I went to see this room for the first time the other day and was shocked to see it is filled with rows of pews, bibles, and a 5 foot wooden cross.

    How long has the room been in existence? How long has he worked there? Where was he when they were putting the pews and the cross in? “For the first time the other day…” he said. This indicates to me that he had no prior interest in the room until he saw that the Christian employees were using it.

    Whether this is based on reality, or merely personal trepidation, or whatever, they should not be made to feel so.

    People put up with a lot of crap that makes them “feel” uncomfortable on a daily basis. It’s called compromise. If you feel something is unfair and if you feel strong enough about change, then speak up! People cannot read each other’s minds and should not be expected to do so.

    Again, if no one else expresses a desire to use the room for other purposes, then what is the harm? What rights are violated?

    I like Jeff’s idea, but that’s provided that there are others who voice their desire to use the room for other types of meditation.

    All of that said, perhaps this group should have asked for other employees’ opinions and/or any objections before they made the space into a chapel.

  • Richard Wade

    Peregrine,

    I deleted which Federal department has the chapel to protect the writer. His large division of that department performs mundane work. It is necessary work, but there’s nothing about it that would warrant a chapel or a paid chaplain, the way one would expect at a hospital or an armed service base.

    I have no idea how prominently or out-of-the-way the chapel is located in the building. From the writer’s phrase, “I went to see this room for the first time the other day” I got the impression that it’s not near the front lobby, but I really don’t know.

  • Tony

    I’m pretty surprised by the responses that the second situation is OK, or even borderline. It looks to me to be an extraordinarily clear violation of the Establishment Clause. The state is directly supporing a Christian church and advertising Christian services.

    Not necessarily. If the only people using this meditation room are Christians and they have therefore decorated it according to their own traditions then there is absolutely no problem whatsoever. If, however, non-christians attempted to make use of the space and were denied access or given a hard time for doing so then you would have an issue. But nothing in the article thus far has suggested that this is the case.

    Richards advice was wise: Find out where it came from, who funded it, who used it and how flexible people are to its use for non-sectarian purpose.

    What I constantly see on this website, is the continued attack at Christians. What is it that offends people so much about God and Jesus? Why are not you all protesting the Mosques openly, and verbally trashing the Islamic Clerics like you do Christians?
    Could it be you might get shot or blown up?

    Oh dear. Anti-islamic scare mongering is most uncivilized. In making this absurd statement you are revealing your rather ugly character. Let’s see what you are trying to say:

    1. Atheists are cowards going after an easy target
    2. Christians are victims of a sort of witch-hunt
    3. We should be happy that christians are civilized, unlike those barbaric muslims with their strange cultures and suicide bombers

    That is three unsupportable positions in one easy statement. At least you are economical with the language.

    Or is that when you read the Bible , and it discusses behaviors that are sinful , and can send one to hell, that it offends people who are in fact committing say, theft, lying, cheating, adultery, etc…

    I do not steal, cheat or commit adultery and my lying is probably on a level analogous to anybody else within my society whether they have religious beliefs or not. I simply so not believe that a politically expedient collection of ancient myths and sayings should have any more claim to absolute truth than anything else and I certainly do not like to be preached to by the likes of you.

    In short, check your head. That’s street slang for “Do not judge lest ye be judged”.

  • Min

    What is it that offends people so much about God and Jesus? … Or is that when you read the Bible , and it discusses behaviors that are sinful , and can send one to hell, that it offends people who are in fact committing say, theft, lying, cheating, adultery, etc…

    This is what offends us, not concepts like “Jesus” or “God.” You (and many other Christians) assume that the only possible reason we could have for not following your religion is because we want to get away with doing horrible things.

    We don’t, though. We’re perfectly normal people. We don’t steal, lie, or cheat (at least, not any more than the rest of the population does, statistically). You even go on to extrapolate that because we don’t worship your “God”, we’re causing moral decay and will destroy America. Do you not understand how we might find that offensive?

    By the way, there are lots of stable, wealthy, first-world countries out there that are not predominantly Christian. Why do you think Japan hasn’t crumbled in on itself yet…?

  • Tim Carroll

    Min, Amen!

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    prospera:

    Again, if no one else expresses a desire to use the room for other purposes, then what is the harm? What rights are violated?

    The first amendment to the constitution is violated. It doesn’t matter if someone is “harmed.” It’s a law. Laws aren’t always about harm. The only problem is that, especially under the last president, establishment clause issues have become about harm, as if someone has to be harmed for our constitution to actually have been violated.

    Let me repeat something that I quoted before, because I’m absolutely sure that you did miss it:

    In this room there is a daily church service being held. It is even advertised in our news letter.

    The government office is advertising a daily Christian church service, being held in its building, in its own newsletter.

  • prospera

    MikeTheInfidel,

    um… I read the First Amendment several times, but I still don’t understand where the specific violation is. I honestly don’t get it. Can you point it out to me? In this particular case, what exactly did the government agency in question do to violate the rights as stated in the First Amendment? And who are the people they violated?

    It’s a law. Laws aren’t always about harm.

    What are they about then? Are they about just following rules for rules sake? Are they about right and wrong? According to whom? I was under the impression that the only purpose for laws in our country was to protect people’s rights, i.e. freedom. The way I see it, if the laws are applied for reasons other than to protect people from harm, they start imposing on people’s rights. That sounds too much like religion to me.

    The government office is advertising a daily Christian church service, being held in its building, in its own newsletter.

    How do you know that the government is advertising it? The newsletter could very well be something that is put out by an employee-run organization within the agency. I don’t have enough information to draw the conclusion that the government itself has anything to do with the information printed in the newsletter.

  • http://www.dlitz.net/ Dwayne

    MLB wrote:

    What is it that offends people so much about God and Jesus?

    Well, that’s a loaded question, since it assumes that God and Jesus exist, but my problem with Christianity was summed up nicely by Greta Christina quite nicely back in 2007 in her article on atheists and anger.