What About Religious Expression?

What's the difference between proselytizing and religious expression? Who gets to decide how much religious expression is acceptable in the workplace? The White Guy addresses both questions in his latest blog entry.


Question:

I would never presume to limit the wearing of headscarves, crosses or modest clothing. What, though, about clothing, not otherwise prescribed by the religion, which is an expression of belief? For example, if you worked in a bank in which suits were the norm, and an employee chose to wear a T-shirt with the words "Jesus Saves" in large print on the front instead of a more traditional shirt.

Nothing in any branch of Christianity suggests that adherents should not wear shirts or should wear T-shirts, nor that good Christians must proclaim their beliefs in large letters on their clothing. Yet asking someone so attired to change clothing (especially since I am not a Christian myself) could lead to charges of suppression of religious expression.

Answer:

There's a big difference between wearing a small cross or headscarf and a T-shirt proclaiming "Jesus Saves" or "Allahu Akbar." One is modest dress while the other I would consider to be proselytizing.

For a typical business or any public institution, proselytizing is not appropriate. Is there a strict definition for proselytizing? No.

Who gets to decide? For business, top management must establish what "crosses the line." The CEO clearly stating values, both publicly and repetitively, facilitates this. What constitutes "proper" dress will also be much less of a problem if effective diversity training and follow-up is in place.

Just so we're all clear, the overwhelming majority of oppressive behavior is directed from the majority culture to a minority culture. If the corporate values define good business practice as serving all people equally and developing talent equitably, then oppressive behavior isn't compatible with good business.

This doesn't take away anyone's "rights" because you don't have a "right" to be a counterproductive employee.

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I'm sure there are a couple of people reading this who are tempted to send me an e-mail about Muslim women wearing headscarves as a form of proselytizing. Here's my answer so we can all save time: Don't be asinine.

Luke Visconti's Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 18 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

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