This is a personal story. I have been thinking a lot about why I have not written here as much as I wished. I guess it has something to do with inserting my own opinion where others have ventured.
A recent article in Pathos “The Free Thinker” got me thinking of an incident that occurred over four decades ago. It has to do with religious discrimination and my turning to atheism as my life philosophy.
I was working for the Colorado Insurance Commissioner’s office in Denver in the mid-80s to the early 90s as a senior analyst for the Division as well as an Administrative Hearing Officer (one step below an Administrative Law Judge). Part of a crew of about one dozen, I worked well with my peers and the administration over the years. Or at least I thought I did.
The “harassment” started when a co-worker, we’ll call him Joe, asked me what church I belonged to. At the time, I was attending the First Universalist Church of Denver. I had left the Jewish religion for personal reasons and was searching for my “spirituality.” The Unitarian/Universalists accepted me without hesitation.
Joe asked if I would be interested in joining him and his wife (the manager of our clerical staff) at his “nondenominational” church. I politely declined the offer, for I did not wish to be associated with the evangelical Christian faith.
Joe then started being critical of my personal and social life. I had been dating a woman who was a Humanist and Joe disapproved of my choice for I was being introduced to the devil’s side of religion. She introduced me to Robert Ingersoll.
The subtle harassment continued, not only from Joe but others on our team who belonged to Joe’s church. For the most part, I ignored the confrontations.
That Christmas, the Division did what most departments did in state government, they put up a Christmas tree in the lobby, complete with lights, garland and fake gifts. The only thing missing was the model railroad train circling the affair. Additionally, three other trees appeared in the department.
One of my co-workers, a Catholic, decided that because I was Jewish we should also celebrate Chanukah. She bought three “Happy Chanukah” signs and placing one in the lobby, one at my desk and the third in front of her desk. It was not long before all three were taken down by the administration. We were told that the person responsible for the action was the Deputy Commissioner.
When confronted, the Deputy Commissioner said that the “Happy Chanukah” signs were religious in nature. I countered that so was the Christmas tree, celebrating Christ’s mass. Like many of the arguments I hear today, she argued that the Christmas trees were secular in nature. My “coconspirator” then took up the mantle saying that if the Chanukah signs came down, the trees would also have to be removed. The DC relented, and the signs and trees remained.
Fast forward about one year, a management position in the Division became available. Finding that I met the qualifications, I applied for the job but was not awarded the position. The Division hired an outside person who had the same credentials as I had with one exception, which I found out after I had left the Division – she was a “good Christian.”
The problem continued even after I left the Division when I applied for a job in Chicago. My former boss told the company that I did not work well with women supervisors, which was not true. I did not work well with one female supervisor, the Deputy Commissioner. Needless to say, I did not get the job.
In hindsight, I should have filed a complaint with the Human Resource Office of the state, but did not. I was not aware of the rules concerning religious discrimination, seeing it as a personality conflict instead.
Recently, a gentleman was awarded $300,000 from the city of San Diego because of a bible-thumping supervisor. Though my supervisors never lead prayer circles in the office, I am sure they prayed for my soul in their church.
Did I have a reasonable complaint against the state? I believe I did, but like what initially happened in the San Diego case, I, as the complainant, would have been transferred and the Deputy Commissioner would have received nothing more than a slap on the hand.
However, I believe the tide is turning. With presidential candidates, i.e. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, acknowledging that there are more beliefs than Christianity, with Islam finally being represented in Congress, and the growing number of “Nones,” the acts of workplace discrimination based on religion and non-religion should be taken more seriously.
Like sexual harassment, religious harassment is real and devastating to the targeted individual.