The Ethical Dilemma: Stop, Drop, and Pray

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Stop, Drop, and Pray: I recently started a job where it’s common for the supervisor to request that we stop work, momentarily, to pray for a coworker.

I am agnostic. I don’t want to create a conflict with my new supervisor (who will determine whether or not I’ll be kept past my probationary period). It’s a small office, and I am obviously the only non-Christian.

Could you please suggest the best way to address this situation?

—I’d Rather Keep Working

Dear Working,

For now, simply pause for a moment as directed, think positive thoughts about the coworker (or about what you will do as soon as you resume working, or what to pick up on your way home from work, or whatever), and then resume going about your business. No fuss, no muss. It’s not as though you’re being commanded to form a circle, clasp hands, bow heads, and offer up a spoken prayer. This is not the time, while you’re on probation and your supervisor doesn’t know you well (and vice versa), to assert your agnostic identity, especially if no one will be supportive of you.

Moments of silence are often used when those who want to pray are accommodating those who don’t. You aren’t actually being coerced into praying per se, just refraining from working for a moment.

It’s important to pick your battles. Picking this one now is more likely to cost you your job and reinforce the Christian culture of your workplace than to modify your supervisor’s behavior or make things any better for nonreligious members of society. The ratio of potential loss vs. gain is currently not in your favor.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever address this—just not now, while you are so vulnerable. Once you are past probation and have established yourself as a valuable employee, you can consider taking steps such as speaking with your supervisor directly, going to a higher level or to human resources— armed with counsel and support from AHA’s legal arm or another watchdog group such as your local ACLU. If this is a private company, you might not have a case, and, as noted, you aren’t actually being forced to pray, so you may not have a solid complaint under any circumstances. Maybe the most you can hope for is being excused from participating.

It’s also possible your supervisor may in time be replaced by someone who won’t interrupt the work day with prayer breaks, and this problem will evaporate on its own.