9.30.2007

Religious Harassment: Can I Get a Witness?

In completing an online educational “module” related to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, I began to think about the importance of having sexual harassment addressed, legally and morally, in the workplace and, simultaneously, about how other kinds of harassment in the workplace are left entirely ignored. The major gap I’d like to preach about and decry here is religious harassment.

When Christians preach directly at me in a workplace situation, I consider this a form of harassment. I’ve had students proselytize in my direction, for example, telling me I need to find my way to Jesus, that I’m in danger if I don’t, that they can get me literature to read or a church to attend, etc. One young man kept it up until I finally stopped dead in my tracks as he followed me to my office (for the third time in a row after class), faced him down, and told him, as politely as I could, that I was tired of assuming and reflecting back to him that he meant well. I told him he was not only wasting his time but actively and overtly insulting me, condescending to me, and alienating me – from his beliefs and from him as a person. He seemed thoroughly shocked to hear this, as if it had never in his wildest dreams occurred to him that his behavior could be seen as inappropriate, much less insulting and alienating, or worse, let me hasten to add, harassing.

In the online lesson on sexual harassment, I read this quotation: “An example of third party harassment may include direct (or telephone) conversations about sex in the hearing range of others to whom it is unwelcome. Such behavior must be stopped if others request it or if management becomes aware of the behavior.”

It makes perfect sense in some ways. Listening to someone talk in insulting or objectifying manner about their sexual conquests while I’m trying to work or in order to distract or disturb me could easily become harassment. Yet, the idea that just being overheard talking about sex at all could lead to a harassment suit made me think about our prudishness as a society. Still, in a gracious society where we err on the side of caution, I respect the concern.

That said, I resent that I could say “Please stop talking about sex in front of me and keep your ‘Pornstar’ or ‘Don’t Assume I’m Not Into Cheap, Meaningless Sex’ t-shirt covered” but could not say “Please stop talking about Christianity in front of me and keep your ‘Denial Won’t Help When You Stand Before Christ’ or ‘The Rapture is Coming: Are You Ready?’ t-shirt covered.”

The truth is that we have no “religious harassment in the workplace” protection or training courses anywhere that I know of. And I want some.

2 comments:

Deborah said...

At the large corporation where I work, religious harrassment is included in the diversity/sensitivity/harrassment training we're required to take and refresh each year.

Jonathan said...

I tell you, there are those out there that just do not get the hint about pushing their beliefs down someone's throat.
I believe that, for any religion, you should live your life according to who you serve/worship and allow that witness to lead others.
When an individual simply "steps in the shoes of God" and attempts to accomplish the things that should be left to God, it comes across as harassment, discrimination, or even dissension! I feel you on this topic!