when your boss leads a workplace dinner in prayer

A reader writes:

What do you think about prayers/invocations said during work events? My organization’s CEO asked everyone to bow their heads while he said grace before a celebratory pre-conference dinner at a fancy restaurant they had rented out for the occasion (it was a typical Christian prayer, thanking the Lord for the food and such). The guests included prominent professionals — some even famous in our field- from all over the country, along with staff and board members.

The organization is health care-based and has nothing at all to do with religion.

I was a little shocked and embarrassed, and immediately wondered how many non-theists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews were among the attendees.

I’m not really asking about the legality of this, but am interested in your take on this issue and wondered if you had advice on how to approach leadership re not including this particular component of the dinner next year.

Ooooh. Yeah, that would make a lot of people uncomfortable, me included, and could make your company look less than professional. (To be clear, I wouldn’t be at all uncomfortable with a prayer before dinner in someone’s home. But the workplace is a very different situation.)

I know you didn’t ask about the legality, but I’ll tell you anyway: It’s legal, as long as they excuse employees who want to be excused and don’t retaliate against them for it in any way. The EEOC says that employers can include prayer in business meetings (and even hold religious services) as long as participation is truly voluntary.

Legality aside, it’s a bad idea. First of all, most employees aren’t going to believe that they can truly opt out without penalty. Quite a few people are going to end up believing that their standing with their management depends on conforming, or appearing to conform, to those religious beliefs/practices. Secondly, even those who don’t particularly care are going to find it unprofessional. So for those two reasons, it’s going to have an impact on morale, retention, and (if word gets out) recruitment. And third, when you’re doing it at a meeting with outsiders there, they’re probably going to find it uncomfortable and unprofessional too.

Now, it might be that the people running your company don’t care about that — or, more accurately, that they want to pray in the workplace more than they care about those consequences. And that’s certainly their prerogative. But it’s also your prerogative to speak up about it, if you want to.

Here’s what I would say if I were in your shoes: “I was surprised to hear a religious prayer said at the dinner the other night. We have employees of many different religious beliefs, and none at all, and the same is probably true of our guests. Regardless of their beliefs, many people are uncomfortable with religion at workplace events. I wonder if that’s been considered?”

You’ll learn a lot by the response. (And be prepared for the fact that many people think that saying grace isn’t especially religious, or that it’s so non-denominational that it couldn’t possibly make anyone uncomfortable. You may find yourself needing to explain that it is indeed exclusionary to plenty of people.)

{ 431 comments… read them below }

  1. JustMe*

    I think it would behoove us all to stop being so offended about everything. I wouldn’t have any problem sitting through a Hindu or Muslim prayer, or Jewishor whatever. In fact, I think I’d welcome the diversity, be greatfull for the dinner and move on. It’s not like they’re asking you to convert. (if they were, that’d be a different story.)

    Its time we all get our panties out of a bunch and start practicing what we preach about diversity and exceptance. It goes both ways.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In someone’s home, absolutely. In the workplace, many people will feel that the message is that the employer promotes a particular religion, they don’t have a choice but to listen to it, that participation is in some way expected, and that not participating will result in being penalized in some way. It’s not appropriate. The workplace is not the place to share religious beliefs, particularly when you’re the boss with the bully pulpit.

      Diversity and acceptance aren’t about company-sponsored religious practice.

      1. Under Stand*

        If he is the owner of the business, then you are, in fact, in his house. And then it is his right to pray if he chooses. His company, his rules. Nothing unprofessional about that. Just like if Shahid Khan wants to have a muslim prayer before each game with his players, it is his right as the owner. I would take no offense to it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Businesses are not people’s homes. But sure, it is indeed his legal right — but it’s a bad idea and there are consequences to it, around reputation/morale/retention/recruitment, as I outlined in the post.

        2. JT*

          “If he is the owner of the business, then you are, in fact, in his house. ”

          No. All sorts of different norms apply to place of work.

          ” Just like if Shahid Khan wants to have a muslim prayer before each game with his players, it is his right as the owner. I would take no offense to it.”

          Have you ever been part of a minority group that is discriminated against in a big way with no prospect of overcoming that discrimination? I doubt it.

          1. JT*

            I meant, no prospect of overcoming that discrimination in the short- or medium-term — like several years or a few decades. Not ever.

        3. Emily*

          Except when I go to my friend’s house for dinner I don’t have to worry that if I don’t react properly to or participate fully in their before-meal prayer I’m going to be unable to pay my rent next month. It’s not the “I own the place” that makes it more OK in someone’s private home vs the workplace, it’s the “we’re all equals here” that makes it OK in someone’s private home vs the workplace.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, and it’s also feeling that you’re freely there, whereas in the workplace you often don’t have much choice about being there (if you want to earn a living).

    2. Anon2*

      As a non-religious person, I would not be offended. However, I do find it suspicious. If the CEO never has a meal without giving thanks in prayer, then he/she could have easily said a private prayer without any really knowing or being de facto involved. The fact that he chose to make it a dinner-wide prayer suggests that he was evangelizing, even though it’s a fairly gentle way to do it. Again, I wouldn’t be offended and or feel pressure to become whatever his religion is, but it would prompt me to take a closer look at his other actions and maybe even consider looking for another job.

      It’s one thing to demonstrate a respect for people’s beliefs and/or to compassionately accomodate (where possible) their rituals – it’s another to so clearly show a preference for your personal beliefs.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I feel the same way. I wouldn’t be offended, and it wouldn’t ruin my night, but I would definitely prefer a workplace where I didn’t have to sit through prayers, so it would be a good way to make me feel like it wasn’t the right culture fit.

    3. AD*

      I’m trying to figure out how to explain this so as not to put you on the defensive, and it’s hard, being that I am a stranger on the internet, but I’m going to try anyway…

      You are, presumably from your comment, a member of the dominant group (Christians). Therefore, turning it around and saying “I wouldn’t mind a Jewish or Muslim prayer” is not the same as how a Jew or Muslim feels when a Christian CEO breaks into prayer like this. Please try to consider it from that perspective.

      In leading a Christian prayer, the CEO indicates that he operates under the assumption that everyone is Christian, or that nobody could possibly hold viewpoints that are in conflict with Christianity.

      Had he asked for a moment of silence, or just raised his glass and said “let’s all be thankful”, that would be one thing, but specific references to the almighty take for granted that everyone shares that view, and makes those who don’t feel invisible.

      1. Anonymous*

        This. People who are non- Christian in the US are reminded constantly that they are not part of the 80% majority in a million tiny ways. Some people aren’t bothered by this at all, some (like me) are driven absolutely nuts by it. Work should not be a place where anyone feels discluded or inferior for any reasons other than performance and personality. Its bad for everyone!

        1. Anonymous*

          While I’m not driven absolutely nuts by it, it does get to me, as someone who tries to live right and who tries to be only ethical, moral, and good.

          Certainly, I’m doing my part to try and help change this, but it is an uphill battle.

      2. Laura L*

        Yes! Or that being Christian is the only right or normal way to be (as a teenager, I had some friends who thought it was weird that I wasn’t Christian and didn’t really go to church).

        The best way to respect others beliefs in the workplace is to not discuss those beliefs in the workplace.

      3. Anonymous*

        Yes, and this behavior is VERY common in the US.

        It’s very hard on those of us who are not Christians, and even moreso on those of us whose beliefs are still not accepted by many, many people.

    4. ruby*

      “I think it would behoove us all”
      Why not just worry about what behooves you? No one is telling you that you need to be offended – if they aren’t bothered by you NOT being offended, why do you care if they are?

      Acceptance also means accepting that different people have different reastions to thigns and that it’s OK for someone else to have a reaction that’s different than yours. From your answer, it seems like acceptance and diversity means “everyone should respond to situations exactly the way I do” and that’s not very accepting. You sound pretty close-minded.

          1. Liz*

            Not sure I’m following you here, because saying that I am accepting of other’s beliefs does not require me to accept people who bully others. Other people have the right to believe what they want in spiritual matters, so I accept that behavior. But no one has the right to shame or belittle or embarrass others for acting within their rights, so I don’t accept that behavior.

            Just saying I accept people who are acting within their rights doesn’t require me to accept everything everyone does ever.

    5. Vicki*

      There is a reason (a very good reason) why the Constitution requires separation of Church and State. Religion is a private thing.
      I wouldn’t be “offended”. But I _would_ be very uncomfortable.

      We need to stop saying “let’s all stop being offended about everything” and sit back and be reasonable. Pushing _your_ religious beliefs at _me_ at a work-related event is not acceptable.

      1. Nitpicker*

        Technically, the Constitution says that the government can’t force anyone to belong to a certain religion and can’t keep anyone from practicing religion.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Exactly. It’s “keep your government out of my religion” (Aka church of England)

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The government can’t keep anyone from practicing religion. Employers, however, can and legally must prevent certain religious behaviors, such as harassing someone about religion, favoring or penalizing someone based on religious beliefs, creating an atmosphere hostile to those of a particular religion, etc.

          1. mh_76*

            Isn’t religion covered under Equal Opp / anti-discrimination laws in the US (I think it is)?

              1. S.A.*

                The EEOC didn’t give a crap about the abuse I endured. Religion can be forced on you repeatedly at your place of work. I know a lot of people being harassed this way and if you don’t convert they make up excuses to fire you. Period. Welcome to Texas by the way.

                If you ain’t a white Baptist male then you ain’t a person here!

    6. Anonymous*

      What about a Pagan invocation to the Goddess?

      My point is, it needs to be all or nothing: All people should be able to offer up their particular prayers, or it should be kept out of the workplace.

      It’s not about being offended. It’s about not alienating clients, coworkers, superiors, and vendors, all of whom are needed to keep a workplace functioning.

  2. Rob*

    +1 to what Alison said. Employees/potential recriuts/customers/stakeholders might feel as though religion, regardless of the religion, is being forced down their throat when they wanted to discuss business.

    I don’t think anyone wants to be surprised by that, and I know I wouldn’t want to be surprised by it too.

  3. mh_76*

    As a non-theist, I might find this a bit strange but I know how seriously taken religion is by the religious and tend to respect that. However, given that he is the boss and that this was a work event…hmmm… Around Eid, do you see Muslims praying in a reserved space? Do your Jewish colleagues have an easy time asking for time off for the High Holy Days (apologies if my syntax is not quite right) or Christians for some of the less major (to the masses) but still important (to them) holidays (I confess that I don’t know those…or much about Hinduism)? How accepted is religion in general in your workplace? If employees wanted to add prayers from their various religions before beginning the next work dinner, how do you think the CEO would react? Or is that the first instance you’ve seen of religion being practiced in the workplace?

    It’s probably a habit that he’s had since childhood and he didn’t even consider what other employees might think. Or he wants the employees to cross-educate (but try to convert) each other. Or he’s a [Christian] zealot who wants to impose his will and his religion on you. My guess would be the first one.

      1. mh_76*

        for lack of better wording, yep.

        It’s one thing to have an inane and inherently meaningless “prayer” at a standardized ceremony like a wedding or a graduation or an inauguration or… but to have one at a business dinner/function, unless (but maybe even if) the company promotes free practice & tolerance in the workplace, is just strange. Since the prayer leader is the CEO, it’s probably best for those who don’t want to participate in the prayer to bow their heads anyway and maybe check a gadget (one of the few exceptions to my “put it away in public” stance) or check that zippers are indeed zipped and that no shirt-weenies are present (shirt-tails caught in the fly).

  4. Anonymous*

    This has happened many times at my company. We have an annual dinner to celebrate the company’s anniversary. Most years the CEO leads a prayer before dinner. It always makes me very uneasy. It just seems unprofessional. I consider myself agnostic and the assumption that everyone believes in God annoys me. I guess I feel like it’s being pushed on me in way, although I wouldn’t say it offends me.

    1. kbbaus*

      I’m kind of in the same boat. We have mandatory quarterly company-wide meetings, that always open with a Christian prayer and devotion. Being the only Jewish person in the company, it’s completely awkward.
      We are, however, a Christian non-profit publishing house. So I don’t know if that makes these meetings okay in this situation.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        I have to admit, this comment made me chuckle.

        Do they know you’re Jewish? If you’ve been letting them think you’re Christian, you can’t blame them for praying when you’re there. And if they do know you’re Jewish, maybe they’re just grateful for you, as a human being, created by You-Know-Who.

        That being said, I agree that prayer doesn’t belong in business situations. I live in the Bible Belt now, and it’s not uncommon to have a prayer during a business event. I never took offense even before started going to church.

          1. Karyn*

            SO totally thought the same thing. Though I can’t see Voldemort creating humans so much as breeding them for Nagini’s food…

        1. jmkenrick*

          I’m curious about this becuase I’m a non-believer, and I find sometimes, just by admitting that to people, you can offend them. Or at the very least, they find it off-putting.

          I definitely wouldn’t let people know about my beliefs (or lack thereof) in the workspace, and I also wouldn’t work for a religious company. (Personally, I think the fact that the company identifies as Christian makes this ok, but that’s just me.)

          However, in defense of kbbaus, I think it is worth noting that sometimes you can offend people by letting them know how you identify, so it’s best to keep it quiet.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yup. When it comes to work, I’m so deep in the Broom Closet that you’d have to move the spiders to find me! ;)

      2. Anon2*

        This is exactly the type of company where I think prayer would not be unprofessional. If it’s a religious-based business, then I think religious ceremonies or rituals (like prayer) are fine.

        Wings of the Angels Shipping (God is our Co-Pilot) – should not discriminate against peole based on religion, but totally acceptable and expected that company leadership would be religious and conduct some facets of the business with that in mind (like prayers before meetings or something along those lines).

        UPS – NOT a religious-based business, should be law-abiding in not discriminating against anyone’s religion but should not be advocating any particular religion either.

        1. Shane*

          I agree. In a normal business I think it is unprofessional and inappropriate but it would be hard to fault them in a business based on or funded by a religious group.

          Side note: Whenever I read “God is our co-pilot” the thought springs into my head that they should really hire a human co-pilot…

      3. Anonymous*

        I’d say in that context, it’s fine. It’s a known faith-based organization. I would expect it in that case.

        I recently applied at a Christian, faith-based non-profit, so even though I am not Christian, I expected that, if I got the job, I would encounter “church talk.” I was fine with that, because it was a known quantity, because I am ecumenical by nature, and because I could totally get behind the organization’s mission.

        (Ultimately turned down the job, because the pay was too low, sadly.)

  5. Anon2*

    It’s kind of like when someone’s work voicemail message ends with “have a blessed day.” I’m not offended by it, but I don’t think it’s professional. If it doesn’t have to do with your job, then I think you need to keep it out as much as possible.

  6. EngineerGirl*

    “The organization is health care-based and has nothing at all to do with religion”

    Are you sure? Many people think a lot of private hospitals etc are secular when they were really founded by religious organizations. The same is true for many private schools. That would reflect in the work culture.

    I’d like to offer a perspective from the other side. Many businesses include drinking, which makes me uncomfortable. And excessive drinking can put professionalism at risk too. The point is, as a Christians I am asked to put up with a lot of behaviors that collide with my belief systems but am told to deal with it in order to be “tolerant”

    While the OP can ask about it, saying that they are “shocked and embarrassed” makes me wonder at their tolerance levels.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think drinking is comparable. This stuff comes down to social norms, and it’s not typical to encounter prayer in the workplace, particularly led by the employer itself. Alcohol and business do more typically mix. (I’m not arguing that they should, just that it’s far more the norm.)

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Social norms where? I think many secularists don’t realize how many things they consider “the norm” actually violate others belief system. I also think they don’t realize how uncomfortable they are making others.

        Prayer in the workplace is “normal” in certain places. I just don’t think you’ve encountered it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I haven’t encountered it — and I wouldn’t be comfortable working somewhere where the CEO felt it was appropriate to use his position of power to force prayer on other people.

          Drinking though? I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that it’s not widespread in workplace happy hours, etc.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            But happy hours don’t go with all businesses. This is about “culture” that you’ve talked about so many times.

        2. khilde*

          Social norms where? I think many secularists don’t realize how many things they consider “the norm” actually violate others belief system.

          I totally get what you are saying here and agree.

      2. Under Stand*

        Your right, not a whole lot of people “prayed too much and xeroxed their rear” at the company party!

      3. Anonymous*

        I understand where EngineerGirl is coming from with the drinking especially since I do not drink (my own personal choice, free from religion).

        There are people who expect others to drink at socials, mixers, happy hours, etc. And those who don’t drink are usually looked down upon for many reasons; one reason I believe is that it makes others uncomfortable (I don’t know why). In a non-work setting, I have been bullied by several people for not drinking, and it only got worse the more they drank. So some feel that there might be repercussions for not drinking at these office socials because who is to say that they won’t bully then either. Now we can translate that to the religion/prayer. Some feel uncomfortable praying for many reasons (different religion, feels prayer is a personal task, etc.). So some might feel that there might be repercussion for not praying at these office gatherings.

        Yes, drinking, or lack thereof, is not in a protected while religions is; that is really the only profound difference. However, for some, like EngineerGirl says, the abstention of drinking is a rule in some cultures and religions (Navajos, Mormons, etc.). However, drinking is more widespread than someone asking for a prayer over a work dinner, but there shouldn’t be that pressure in that case either. I think that’s the link EngineerGirl is trying to show.

        1. Julie*

          As someone who also doesn’t drink much (maybe a glass a month), I’ve never felt pressured. But even if you did, there are ways around it — you can sometimes work it out with the bartender or waiter beforehand that whenever you order something, they’ll just hold the alcohol. (Screwdriver => orange juice, e.g.)

          And there are plenty of socially-acceptable reasons why people wouldn’t drink, beyond religion: they’re driving, they’re on medication that conflicts with alcohol, whatever. Yes, sometimes people might try to get you to have a drink, but once you become known as “the girl/guy who orders sodas,” most people stop trying to force it on you. Or at least, that’s been my experience.

          1. Anonymous*

            You will have a glass; I flat-out won’t. I’ll have a soda. Many people are fine with that. I have actually played beer pong with soda! But there have been two incidents in which two people, as they got tipsy to drunk, felt it was necessary to make a spectacle of me not drinking alcohol. One girl was getting pretty nasty about it, and finally a guy stepped in to defend me. That made her stop but not before she flipped him off. Another time, a different girl felt that she needed to tell me that I was too uptight because I didn’t drink and needed to learn to let loose. As soon as she started in actually attacking my personality/life, I left. I have seen her since, and she has not said one word to me about it. I don’t think she remembered it because she was drunk by the time the comments came rolling.

            Sure there might be ways around it, but people should also learn that they should just not pressure a person in regards to alcohol.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            I shouldn’t have to “fake it” to make others comfortable. And let me assure you, being forced to go to customer dinner parties where there is a lot of drinking (and pressure to drink) isn’t fun. I really appreciate the fact that my new program doesn’t pressure me to violate my beliefs (working on Sabbath)

            And that is my point- that secularists can exert just as much pressure in the other direction. They are forcing their beliefs on me. So the key word is tolerance- and it needs to go in BOTH directions.

            1. Anonymous*

              I don’t care if other people drink (although I don’t get why everything with many I do know has to revolve around the beer) but I hate it when they zero in on me just because I don’t have a beer or glass of wine in my hand.

            2. Peter*

              I don’t think the secularists are going to prevent you from saying grace in your own home. You’ll just need to think twice before doing it at your company function. Religion is personal, and unless your work-place has regligion as one of its objectives, you’ll need to keep in mind that colleagues are there to earn their keep, not to attend church.

            3. Laura L*

              The problem is that the only way to truly respect others’ religious beliefs or lack of beliefs is to have a secular workplace where religion is not discussed and not promoted by the managers in any way. This applies to all religions as well as to atheists. No one should be discussing their belief or lack of belief in a god or gods or spirit or anything else.

              1. Anonymous*

                This! Exactly!

                Also, for the record, I don’t feel the workplace and alcohol should mix, either, and I do excuse myself from imbibing with coworkers.

                I would be very uncomfortable working somewhere were alcohol was always available. Happy hours out are fine, but booze in the office/shop/etc? Not fine with me.

            4. Laura L*

              I shouldn’t have to “fake it” to make others comfortable.

              Neither should I, as a non-Christian. And sitting through a Christian prayer led by my CEO is “faking it.”

              1. Esra*

                Yes, this exactly. It’s just easier for everyone to keep religion out of the workplace entirely.

            5. Val*

              This has been discussed upthread, but you’re coming from a position of privilege. I live in an area where there are more atheists per-capita than national average and it is still the assumption that people are Christian. You’re complaining about a slight loss in the societal power Christianity used to have to oppress followers of other (or no) religions. Seems like a bit of a martyr complex, complaining about “secularists”.

          3. Under Stand*

            So basically you are saying the person who does not drink should be forced to lie to be accepted by the drinkers.

            Funny how so many find drinking “socially” to be ok but praying “socially” is horrid.

            As for the convoluted statement that people drinking is not incredibly charged, I have experienced otherwise. Most, not some but most, drinkers treat nondrinkers like we are defective. It is much like the guys at work who try to coerce non gamblers to purchase into the company basketball pool because “it is just fun”. Those who take offense to praying do so, I feel, because they feel conviction about how they live and do not like it. Just like the drinkers feel convicted around the nondrinkers and want to bring them to the drinkers level. Or the gambling addict wants the non gambler to join the pool so that they feel “OK” about being in it.

            1. Julie*

              “So basically you are saying the person who does not drink should be forced to lie to be accepted by the drinkers.”

              Did you even read my second paragraph? There are plenty of socially acceptable reasons not to drink. My usual one is, “Sorry, I don’t drink.” I might get a hard time on it the first time I tell someone new, who pushes a bit and tries to see if I *really* don’t drink, or where my limits are. By the second or third time we go out, it’s become a non-issue.

              1. MaryTerry*

                Yes, there are many socially acceptable reasons not to drink – except that many drinkers don’t accept them. My friends, yes. But others, not always. It’s almost as if they’re offended if I’m not drinking alcohol, even if I’m the designated driver (“One can’t hurt”) or just don’t feel like it (“how can you not feel like a drink”).

                Please don’t assume that everyone is as reasonable as the drinkers you hang out with. Most are, but not all. Then they never let you forget it.

                1. Nichole*

                  Jim Gaffigan (the comedian, who also happens to be a fellow Hoosier) has a hilarious bit where he compares being a non-drinker to not eating mayonaise-“Are you addicted to mayonaise? Is it ok if *I* eat mayonaise?” I only drink when I feel like it, period, and “I think I’ve had enough” has been pretty effective for me when dealing with the truly obnoxious. “I’m driving” also seems to work for other people (I don’t drive, so I can’t get away with it).

                  I’m also a Christian against prayer in inappropriate settings. No one should be blindsided with religion. I consider my religious practives very personal, and even a poorly placed “God bless” feels contrived and icky to me. If there’s not a reasonable expectation of prayer, all I can think is that there have got to be people of other faiths present who are thinking once again that Christians are really rude and presumptuous to assume that everyone believes as they do. I’m not offended by the prayer, I’m offended by the poor manners of it. I don’t even mind people discussing religion in a smaller setting, but something like this with a huge group with various levels of familiarity would make me so irritated. Consideration for the beliefs of others is common courtesy to me, and courtesy is heightened in the workplace. I’m never a nicer or more considerate me than I am at work.

                2. Anonymous*

                  That’s because they are either alcoholics or codependent. It is not about you, it’s about them. The best way to handle them is to say “No, thanks” and shut the conversation down quickly.

            2. KellyK*

              Those who take offense to praying do so, I feel, because they feel conviction about how they live and do not like it.

              That’s a really off-base assumption, especially when there are plenty of Christians saying it’s not professional or not appropriate. It assumes that anyone who disagrees with you thinks, in their heart of hearts, that you’re right and they feel guilty because they know they’re wrong. It’s more likely that they do actually just disagree with you.

            3. Joshua*

              “Those who take offense to praying do so, I feel, because they feel conviction about how they live and do not like it. ..”

              Mom! What did I tell you about posting on the Internet?!

              Seriously though, get over yourself. Having this sort of attitude in life, let alone a business setting, will make you come across as completely unbearable, at least to any reasonable person.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I get the comparison, but I don’t think it works — both because of the varying social norms, and also because religion is incredibly charged in a way that being around people drinking generally isn’t. Religious intolerance has a long history of being scary in a very different way.

          1. Anonymous*

            I understand your point. It’s a bit of stretch to compare, but on a day-to-day basis, there is that pressure in both scenarios.

            Religious intolerance has a long history of being scary in a very different way.

          2. Under Stand*

            For those with family members with alcoholism, drinking intolerance has a long history of being scary as well.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              No one is saying that alcohol isn’t fraught with issues for some people, but it’s really not the same thing as the history of religious intolerance. It’s just not.

              1. Under Stand*

                And there we disagree. I over three decades later remember VIVIDLY carrying my dad to bed every night because he was passed out on the kitchen table. When I see someone trying to coerce me to drink, it is everything within me to keep from taking that bottle and shoving it so far up there rear that it comes out their mouth.

                I have seen what drinking does to families and what it does to kids. And it pisses the fire out of me when intolerant people who try to force others to drink to make them feel better about their drinking! Drinking killed my family. And anyone who tries to get me to drink is DEFINITELY not my friend!

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think we’re talking past each other. As AD said further down, if someone wrote in saying that they were being pressured to drink at work, I’d have a similar answer for them. It’s not okay. But comparing having to see others drink with having religion forced on you by your employer — they’re two different things.

                2. JT*

                  If there is pressure to drink, it’s analogous. If it’s just a time with people drinking if they want, it’s different.

                  Prayer, being about belief and not just action, inherently has pressure. Drinking might, or might not.

                3. Emily*

                  Echoing JT, it’s about coercion and power. THe boss wasn’t simply bowing his own head quietly before he ate his own food–he was leading the entire group present in a group prayer. When Jane Employee sees Joe Boss drinking scotch at a company function, she is not likely to assume scotch is such an important part of his life that he may retaliate against her or privilege other scotch drinkers above her if she doesn’t also drink scotch. When Jane Employee sees Joe Boss leading the entire company in prayer at a company function, it’s much more likely she will wonder if religion is such an important thing to him that he may retaliate against her or privilege religious folks above her if she doesn’t also pray. Drinking is a personal activity and group prayer is a group activity. While there are certainly jerks out there who will try to pressure others into drinking (I do drink and I’ve still encountered jerks who try to goad me into drinking way too much while I exasperatedly explain that I’m quite happy with the amount I’ve had to drink, that I’m not 21, and I’m not interested in vomiting now or being hungover tomorrow, thankyouverymuch), most drinking is not inherently an activity that one leads a group in doing in unison. If your boss is trying to lead the whole company in a game of Beer Pong, you may have a better case.

                4. Andrew*

                  Im orry or your family’s troubles, but there is no equivalence here. No one has ever been put in a concentration camp because they enjoyed a beer.

                5. Jamie*

                  @ JT “Prayer, being about belief and not just action, inherently has pressure. Drinking might, or might not.”

                  I think this is the crux of the difference. People don’t tend to define themselves by whether or not they drink. Religion, however, is often (not always) a ranked up there with how people define themselves.

                  People are ridiculously complex – even the most shallow of us cannot be broken down into a bullet list – but if one had to list five things they “are” (not who they are at work – but who they are as a person) as a cliff note description for many people their faith may be one of the top five.

                  Off the top of my head – me:

                  1. Woman
                  2. Mother
                  3. CIO
                  4. Catholic
                  5. Midwestern

                  If we went up to 10 I might add my ethnicity, hair-color, political affiliation, age, and the kind of car I drive.

                  But I doubt very much that “very occasional drinker of a good French martini” would ever make the cut. It’s just not defining for most people…which is why it’s different.

            2. Anonymous*

              As someone who has studied and teaches what religious intolerance can do, this is where the comparison splits. People have not been persecuted for not drinking to the extent (of trying) to wipe out an entire group of people. Actually, during the Second World War, it was frowned upon to drink in Germany, especially for the officers and government workers because the leader refused the drink himself.

              Yes, there was prohibition in this country in the 1920s so people were arrested and such, but they weren’t persecuted in a genocidal way (just fined, jailed, etc.).

              BUT… on a day-to-day level at the office, the pressure from both exist. Refuse to pray? Will you have a job in the morning? Refuse to drink? Will they find other things to fire you for?

          3. your mileage may vary*

            I’m wondering if anyone’s ever accepted a job and then found out later that office happy hour was mandatory, though? There are a couple of mentions of such a thing on this blog and it was disclosed in the interview process. I’ve never been in such a situation myself so I don’t know if it gets sprung on people after they are hired although I’d imagine that offices that sponsor a happy hour consider it a perk and would tell people up front to expect it. If so, if you had an aversion to drinking, you could weigh that with the rest of the company culture and accept or decline the job offer.

            However, I’ve never known anyone to disclose in the interview that there would be praying at the office so I’ve been in situations where I’ve started working and then been surprised that people would pray before meals.

            This dichotomy is the reason I’m having a hard time believing that the analogy between drinking at work and praying at work are the same.

          4. Anth*

            And what about those who don’t drink for religious reasons? (Just trying to cause trouble with this praying is like drinking argument that doesn’t make any sense.)

          5. Anon*

            As much as I dislike both – being pressured to exhibit the behaviors of someone else’s faith and being pressured to drink – no one assumes that non-drinkers will go to hell, as some religious people believe those of other faiths will, or that non-drinking women should not stay home caring for children and not have jobs, as some fundamentalists do, or that nondrinkers have no morals at all, as some people believe of atheists. I’m with AAM on that one: religious pressure is a different animal than pressure to drink.

        3. Victoria*

          I think the primary difference is that the CEO in this case was essentially “inflicting” prayer on everyone (as they were obligated to sit through it, not going about their chosen business), whereas people who are drinking might behave badly (a separate issue) but don’t actually obligate others to drink.

          I too don’t drink, and I generally hate attending events where everyone else is drinking – it’s just not fun. But If the CEO is drinking at a happy hour, she’s not preventing me from doing something else while she does so (I can be in the corner talking with a friend, eating a sandwich, playing pool, watching the game on the TV above the bar, etc.).

          1. Alisha*

            I have health problems exacerbated by drinking, and I also come from a long line of addicts on both sides of the family (and have had my own struggles), so I frequently decline drinking at work functions. However, I am not a teetotaler, so I imagine my experience was a bit different. My co-workers have known that I imbibe on very special occasions, but it’s not a frequent thing, and I never drink with meals. It helps that in my industry, we have a lot of Hindus (from India or first-gen American born) who also abstain.

            Enforced company social outings can get vexing though. The company I worked at briefly before the position was yanked due to the double-dip recession had these. I didn’t have anything in common with my co-workers (mostly younger, obsessed with Jersey Shore, lacking in basic social graces), and when they drank, they would become pretty invasive and ask me rude questions. For example, one woman badgered the crap out of me because my wedding was coming up, and she thought it wasn’t “right” that we wanted a low-key commitment ceremony at the Justice of the Peace. My husband and I are also members of the LGBT community, and it was important that our ceremony reflect that by following some protocols of a civil union, but I didn’t feel right getting into all that with someone I barely knew, and I shouldn’t have to.

            Maybe I’m glad in the end that this position went away. In multiple rounds of interviews, the executive to whom I’d be reporting never mentioned these mandatory outings and parties, and the people who worked there weren’t the most pleasant or polite I’ve met. And I’m an extrovert who can get along with or relate to just about anyone, so that’s saying something!

    2. Naama*

      Maybe the difference is whether the behavior in question can be coercive. If a boss is leading the company in prayer, a reasonable employee might feel like she’s being pressured to join the boss’s religion. And equal opportunity employment basically means that if a boss discriminates against employees on a religious basis, it’s a huge legal problem. Either way, this isn’t an issue of the employees tolerating the boss’s prayer; this is closer to an issue of the boss pushing her views onto her employees (and being intolerant of their religious views).
      Drinking, on the other hand? You don’t have the same legal problem, and it’s less likely that a reasonable employee would think that a boss drinking at a workplace dinner is sending the message that ALL employees should drink, or risk losing their jobs/being passed up for promotions.
      If a boss is pressuring her employees to drink, yeah, it’s a problem! But it’s less reasonable for an employee to think a boss’s drinking is coercive than the boss’s leading of the company in prayer.
      Also, I think the correct possessive may be “boss'” but I’m very tired right now. Sorry.

      1. AD*

        Here’s the thing: If someone were being coerced into drinking, for any reason, I bet AAM would give very similar advice. It wouldn’t matter if the reason for not drinking was religion, health, taste, whatever, I think Alison would tell the employee to bring it up in a similar manner with very similar language to what she advised the OP here (Sorry, Alison, if I’m putting words in your mouth).

        Now, if someone is offended by OTHER PEOPLE drinking, that’s a whole different story, and that is, in my mind, a false equivalence to the OP.

    3. Gayle*

      As an atheist, I would feel uncomfortable with prayer at a work function. Here’s why: I’m forced to make a decision between participating or not. And whatever I do, I will be seen as making a statement about my beliefs.

      Participating feels dishonest to me — like I’m lying to those around me and pretending to be a Christian. Moreover, some people know (or will know) that I’m atheist and they may see it as my trying to hide something.

      But if I don’t participate, then I’m making an I AM AN ATHEIST statement. And not just ANY atheist, but one of THOSE atheists — the ones who hate religion (or at least, that’s the stereotype). Moreover, a lot of people distrust atheists, and I would be worried about the impact on my career — particularly at a company where praying at a work function is okay.

      So my being uncomfortable with prayer at a work function is not my being overly sensitive or intolerant. I went to Christian schools all my life. I got married in a church. I couldn’t care less if my coworkers prayed before a meal. I’m 100% fine with Christianity, and with religion as a whole.

      But when it’s a company-lead prayer, there is suddenly no neutral stance. Whatever I do, I’m making a statement. I don’t want to make a “statement” about atheism — that I’m hiding it or that I’m promoting it.

      Moreover, the fact that the company doesn’t realize that it’ll make a lot of people uncomfortable is just strange. And that’s why it’ll seem unprofessional to employees and to other guests.

      As far as your being uncomfortable with other people drinking — hey, that sucks that there’s something at work that collides with your beliefs. In the case of the prayer, there’s an easy way to avoid that discomfort — don’t have company-lead prayer. In the case of being uncomfortable around OTHER people drinking, there’s no reasonable way to avoid that (asking all work functions to be alcohol-free is a bit too much to ask). So, unfortunately, the lesser of two evils is to ask you to put up with it. It’s not necessarily totally fair, but it is probably the least unfair option.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I find this perspective interesting. So I need to be uncomforable because it is the lesser of two evils, but the OP needn’t be?

        I mean the CEO led a dinner prayer. No big deal to me. So people are drinking. No big deal to you.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          By asking people not to drink, you’d be asking them not to do something that’s a very common workplace norm. It would be like asking people not to eat meat at workplace functions (something that many vegetarians might like to do but recognize isn’t reasonable to ask when it’s the norm).

          But prayer at secular workplace functions is not the norm, and thus it is reasonable to speak up against it.

          1. EngineerGirl*


            But in other parts of this discussion, peolpe are saying “christianity” is the dominant religion, and the bosses prayer would be pushing them to conform. Using that logic, why wouldn’t I feel that same pressure to conform for drinking?

            Is it coersion or not? I find it interesting I’m being told to be tolerant, but the OP isn’t. I find it interesting that I have to accept a supposed “social norm” but reject the “religious norm” at work?

            Which is it?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think your logic is wrong there. It comes down to pushing a group to adhere to your own beliefs. The CEO shouldn’t make everyone participate in a religious prayer, but he can say a private prayer on his own if he’d like. Insisting that everyone else not drink just because you don’t approve of it is not reasonable, but you are welcome not to drink if you’d prefer not to. Vegetarians can choose to abstain from meat at work, but they can’t reasonably ask everyone else to.

              1. Anth*

                No, but vegetarians can hold wedding receptions with no prayer and no meat! However, I can’t fire you for saying a prayer for me for being a plant-eating atheist when you come to my wedding.

            2. Under Stand*

              You are correct. But you must remember that they are claiming that 80% of Americans are self identifying as Christian to try to justify their bigotry to Christianity rather than the more accurate numbers of approximately 40% who attend church regularly.

              That is what makes the prayer not the social norm, not that it is unprofessional, just that statistically less of the bosses are Christian. Now by comparison, traditionally 70% of Americans self identify as drinking alcohol. So those of us in the 30% are going to be discriminated against and we should just deal with it.

              1. jmkenrick*

                Yes, but it’s fairly easy to abstain from alcohol at a workplace event (I do it all the time), but a prayer like the one described above you essentially have to sit and participate in, regardless of whether you believe.

                Now, if you have trouble abstaining from alcohol at work events, then I would agree that there’s a problem with the culture. Nobody should be pressured to drink if they don’t want to.

              2. your mileage may vary*

                This may be derailing the topic a bit but I don’t think that identifying as a Christian necessarily includes going to church on a regular basis. There are a lot of non-church-goers who think that we should leave the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and leave “in God we trust” on the money. Those beliefs indicate at least a tacit belief in God so your number of people who would find a quick prayer over a work meal to be no big thing would be substantially higher than 40%.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think so. We’ve had plenty of Christians post here that they’d be uncomfortable with a prayer at a work dinner and would find it inappropriate.

          2. The OP*

            This is funny because I was thinking the same thing- I actually happen to be vegan, for ethical reasons. But it would never have occurred to me to write to Alison to ask her advice on how to ask senior leadership to stop providing meat at work functions.

            But maybe that’s not such a bad idea…(Just Kidding)!

        2. Gayle*

          People should always pick the lesser of two evils, right?

          Given your discomfort with other people drinking, I can only see one of two options:
          (1) Your being uncomfortable because other people are drinking.
          (2) No one being allowed to drink at work functions.

          Is there another option that I’m missing? If not, then I think even you can agree that option (1) is the lesser of two evils. Thus, it should be chosen — even though it has some unpleasant consequences.

          In the case of a company-lead prayer, there are also two options:
          (1) The CEO not leading a company-wide prayer (but still being allowed to pray in private), possibly to his discomfort.
          (2) The CEO leading the company in prayer, causing a good number of people to be uncomfortable and many people to see the company as unprofessional.

          Option (1) is probably the lesser of two evils here and, therefore, should be chosen.

          This is not a double standard. I am being consistent in saying, “let’s look at the choices and pick the option that causes the least discomfort.” If we could make everyone comfortable, we would.

          Do you disagree with which option is the lesser of two evils in each situation? Or do you disagree with the premise that we should pick the lesser of two evils? Either way, I’d be interested in your thoughts here, since you do appear to disagree in some way.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Why is it that one person’s desire to lead a workplace in prayer (when he could instead pray on his own) trumps multiple people’s desire not to be subjected to a group prayer that may violate their own beliefs? This is a genuine question; I can’t understand the viewpoint.

              1. Danielle*

                But in the case of this work dinner, it may not have been JUST one person’s desire to pray. If I follow the statement presented somewhere above that said Christians are some 80% of the population, then it stands to reason that most people in that dinner were following the prayer, or at very least feeling neutral towards it, right? So how many people truly were offended by it? Probably only a few.

                1. Mike C.*

                  No, not at all. Just because someone claims to be Christian on a survey doesn’t mean they practice (or not) in the same way.

                  You’re making a whole lot of assumptions on the practices and beliefs of a group that consists of around a billion people.

                2. Jamie*

                  “If I follow the statement presented somewhere above that said Christians are some 80% of the population, then it stands to reason that most people in that dinner were following the prayer, or at very least feeling neutral towards it, right?”

                  That doesn’t stand to reason, for me. I’m a Catholic and in my home we do pray before meals – the typical Catholic blessing. If I were at a work function that began with the sign of the cross and “Bless us oh Lord” I would be very uncomfortable. If it were grace as practices by some other sects I would be pissed. Growing up I would eat dinner at friends’ homes on Friday nights and I thought the Shabbat prayers were lovely. If my boss lead a dinner with it I would be concerned (needlessly or not) that Jewish religious culture was so crucial to the workplace that it could affect my career.

                  It’s work – that’s the difference.

                  Company prayer is so outside the norm for most of us that it just feels so unprofessional.

                  Now, I would see this differently if people worked for a religious organization or institution. If the goals of the workplace were based on religion, it would be in keeping with those goals and people should deal with their conflicts before accepting the job.

                  But yes, the majority of people do self-identify as some form of Christian…but I believe the majority of people would also be uncomfortable with prayer at a work event.

                3. JohnQPublic*

                  You assume that most of the people, in addition to sharing the boss’ religion, also found it appropriate to pray at work. I assure you that is not necessarily the case. Both my parents are civil servants and christian, and they would speak up against prayer if it was done in this manner.

            2. Gayle*

              Okay. In which situation(s) do you disagree with my thinking on which is the lesser of two evils? Can you explain more?

              1. Do you think that it’s reasonable all work functions (including holiday parties) have no alcohol because you are uncomfortable with other people drinking?
              2. Do you think that the discomfort caused to the CEO for not leading a prayer (given that he can still pray privately) is greater than the discomfort caused to other people when he does lead a prayer?

              To be honest… it sounds a lot like your attitude is, “well, I have to put up with discomfort, so I’m going to cause discomfort to other people too.” Hopefully you understand the issue in this reasoning.

              1. EngineerGirl*

                My attitude is that for the sake of “getting along” I have to put up with discomfort (be tolerant), and maybe others for the sake of “getting along” should try to do the same.

                The CEOs prayer is a one time incident (which lasted less than a few minutes), which in the whole scheme of things, is minimal. If it happened every time, I think the OP might have a different situation to deal with.

                Look, I’m not expecting or demanding no alcohol. I’m trying to be tolerant and not jam my beliefs down others throat. But it does get really hard when my company has a multi hour “Monte Carlo Night” (gambling & drinking) for our holiday party and expect me to attend. It was a lot easier when they had dinner/dance. I could go to dinner and sneak out.

                But that is my point. A little tolerance could go a long way here. But from what I’m seeing, I’m expected to accomodate others belief systems, but give up my own in order to “get along”

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But then would you argue that companies shouldn’t serve meat at company events, because of people who are vegetarian for deeply-held moral reasons?

                2. AD*

                  You continue to make a false equivalence. Expecting someone not to bring religion into the workplace is not the same as expecting someone not to drink in the workplace. This is the general consensus of secular society in the United States, as evidenced by the fact that religion is a protected class and non-drinkers are not.

                3. Gayle*

                  So. I’m not actually sure where your disagreement is here. You seem to agree that the CEO shouldn’t have led a prayer. And you seem to agree that it’s unreasonable to demand that no work functions have alcohol. Yet you are still saying that the OP shouldn’t be bothered by this.

                  As far as I can tell, your reaction seems to be one of unfairness in that you have to put up with discomfort while other people are saying that OP shouldn’t have to.

                  And as far as that — remember here that SOMEONE has to put up with discomfort. Either the CEO has some (presumably very mild) discomfort or a large number of people feel (potentially significant) discomfort.

                  The fact that you have to put up with discomfort doesn’t mean that we should ignore other people’s discomfort, however mild.

                  By the way, your company should also respect your decision to not drink by not having an event that revolves solely around drinking. If they aren’t, then I’m sorry. That’s not right either. Someone should speak up — not just for you, but for everyone who may not want to drink (muslims, pregnant women, mormons, etc).

                4. KellyK*

                  While I don’t agree with you on the appropriateness of prayer, I totally agree that a Monte Carlo Night as a holiday party that people are expected to attend is really inappropriate. I don’t have any problem with moderate drinking or moderate gambling from a religious perspective (or any perspective, for that matter), but plenty of people do. Or they have social or family history that makes those events really uncomfortable for them.

                  Granted, I think *any* holiday party should be fully and truly optional, but the more potential it has to be uncomfortable, the more important it is to either choose something universally appropriate or make it fully voluntary.

                5. danr*

                  We don’t know that it is a “one time incident”. We have to assume that it happens at all company dinners lead by the CEO.

                  Saying grace before a meal can be done in an inclusive way by a devout member of a religion. He/She just needs to remember what the situation is. I’ve seen it done ‘gracefully’ many times.

          1. Anonymous*

            Given your discomfort with other people drinking, I can only see one of two options:
            (1) Your being uncomfortable because other people are drinking.

            I think you misunderstand the uncomfortableness people have expressed here in regards to drinking. It’s not that people are uncomfortable that others are drinking. It’s when the drinkers make the situation uncomfortable for the non-drinkers by pointing out that they are not drinking, and those people start pressuring the non-drinkers to drink with asinine comments. If people, especially the drinkers, treated it as a none issue, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place.

            And to those who say “oh I haven’t been pressured,” please stop trying to refute it with that because it does happen. Maybe it doesn’t happen to you; you’re lucky then. But there are jerks in the world who do actually make nice social outings into hell.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think we’ve all clearly agreed that pressuring someone to drink is inappropriate, and if that happens in your office, you have a problem that should be addressed. No one is arguing that that’s okay. However, some have argued that having to be around people who drink is the same as having to sit through an employer-led prayer, which it is not.

            2. Kimberlee*

              I would guess, based on my own experience, that workplace pressure to drink is very rare (and I’ve come from some heavy-drinking workplaces, and I’ve never had an issue when I’ve abstained, and I’ve never seen someone harassed because they wanted to abstain). And the pressure comes from specific instances of people making drinking a big deal and pressuring others.

              On the other hand, every incident of prayer is going to have an oppressive effect in the workplace. Non-theists have to choose, every time, to put on a smile and bow their heads or become “that person” who has a problem with prayer at work. Every single time a religious activity happens at work, the problem is there. It is pervasive. Having a couple happy hours where drunk people are jerks is a totally different degree of magnitude.

              It should be dealt with, surely, if it happens, but the solution is “tell people to stop being jerks” rather than “ban alcohol because one person was harassed.” The best solution to the pervasive discomfort of prayer at work is to not have prayer at work.

            3. Gayle*

              EngineerGirl was saying that she was uncomfortable with OTHER people drinking, and arguing that it’s the same thing as the OP being uncomfortable with company-led prayer. So, she argued, if EngineerGirl has to put up with other people drinking, then the OP should have to put up with company-led prayer.

              That, of course, is not the same thing. It’s a much bigger ask to demand that no one drink around her than to ask to not lead official prayers (provided people may still pray privately).

              Now, if company is pressuring someone to drink, that’s totally inappropriate (but that wasn’t actually the issue that EngineerGirl was discussing). Company events should be set up in a way that, while they may have alcohol, those who don’t drink should not feel uncomfortable.

              I do agree, however, that pressure to drink does exist. I hope that most people back off if you explain that it’s a religious issue, but you of course shouldn’t even need an explanation.

              1. Anonymous*

                Also, those of us who would be offended by a prayer led at work are NOT necessarily offended or uncomfortable with OTHER PEOPLE PRAYING. It’s when you are forced to participate in these activities that it becomes a problem.

    4. Peter*

      The issue is being obfuscated by comparing drinking with regligion.

      The alcohol exists.

      Your god, to the other person, does not exist (or is another god).

      1. Anonymous*

        Absolutely. I’m really not sure how a philosophical / belief system (which, as has been pointed out has led to war, cultural vandalism when people think my god’s better than yours) can be equated with drinking. I’ve never been pressured to drink when I don’t want to, but I have been harassed in the street many times by people who think their right to try to convince me that their way is right trumps my right to carry on my life unbothered by people that I frankly view as deluded. Religion and drinking are a personal choice, and no-one should be forced either way. But it’s a dodgy argument to say that religion in the workplace is fine even if it make lots of people uncomfortable, because I don’t like alcohol.

      2. JT*

        Peter – that’s hilarious. I don’t drink but almost want to get a T-shirt that says “Alcohol exists.”

      3. Under Stand*


        Prove your statement.

        Just because you do not believe any god exists, does not make it so.

        1. Nieciedo*

          It is not necessary to prove that a god does or does not exist for this point to be valid.

          Jews do not believe that Jesus is God. Christians do not believe in Vishnu. Those are facts. Do you dispute them? So if a Jew is being asked to join in a prayer to Jesus, or a Christian is being asked to join in a prayer to Vishnu, from the Jew’s or Christian’s POV, what are they being asked to pray to?

        2. Camellia*

          I agree, and it reminds me of a scene from the first “Santa Clause” movie:

          Boy to stepdad: Have you ever seen a million dollars?
          Stepdad: No.
          Boy: Just because you haven’t seen it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

          1. jmkenrick*

            Yeah, but I don’t think that’s Peter’s point. Peter’s point is that your God does not exist to the other person, much like the God from another religion doesn’t exist for you.

        3. Alison*

          I think you misunderstood. Peter was saying that from the perspective of an atheist, god does not exist. He was not trying to say anything decisively about the existence of god.

        4. ThatHRGirl*

          …. He was saying that, to the other person, your god does not exist. To them. Not “in general”.

      4. JoAnna*

        I agree that regligion doesn’t exist. Religion, however, does. And whether religion exists (and it does) is an entirely separate question than if God exists.

        For the record, if my boss got up before a company dinner and announced that religion didn’t exist, I’d be extremely uncomfortable and offended. (If he said regligion didn’t exist, I’d assume he’d had too much to drink.)

    5. jmkenrick*

      I’m confused about this comparison. At my workplace, at least, it’s fairly easy to abstain from alcohol at company events without feeling pressured to drink. If you’re being pressured to drink, I think we can all agree that’s inappropriate.

      If a prayer is led before a meal, there’s really no way to ignore it or act like it’s not happening. And I agree with what another commentator said when they reflected that it seems misleading to participate, and rude to abstain. However – it’s not rude to abstain from drinking, and if people are harassing you for that, it seems you have a different problem.

      I don’t think it follows that prayer in the workplace is necessarily a good idea. (With the disclaimer of that there are religious-based workspaces, and they should create whatever culture they like.)

      1. Jamie*

        “I’m confused about this comparison. At my workplace, at least, it’s fairly easy to abstain from alcohol at company events without feeling pressured to drink. If you’re being pressured to drink, I think we can all agree that’s inappropriate.”

        This. I rarely drink, and never at a work function. While I’ve never had anyone even question what was in my glass, workplaces in which drinkers are putting pressure on drinkers should address that behavior. No one should feel pressured one way or the other about personal choices, except as they impact the work.

        But asshatty comments of drinkers during pseudo social functions at work are different than prayer led by the person who can shape your career. There is a fear that people who feel strongly enough about their beliefs that they would think public prayer is a good idea in this instance may very well reward others with similar beliefs, and conversely, not reward others who didn’t participate.

        I’ve been working for a while now and have yet to see a drink cart rolled into a Monday morning staff meeting.

        Although, this is one more illustration of why these faux social events which are really forced OT are a bad idea. Just give people more money and some time off if you want to celebrate something – infringing on employees’ free time so they have to deal with drinking, not drinking, how much to drink…not a reward.

        1. jmkenrick*

          “I’ve been working for a while now and have yet to see a drink cart rolled into a Monday morning staff meeting.”

          This is why I love Jamie’s comments. I laughed out loud picturing people’s faces were that to happen.

        2. Anonymous*

          I worked for a small private company owned by a lush. Friday afternoons finished up with a bottle of wine between 4 or a bottle of beer. But importantly – softs were provided as well. Plus it was a recruitment company in London – we all drank, just not as much as the owner!

  7. Anonymous*

    As a non-theist, I used to get annoyed at things like this, but I’ve mellowed with age and now I just tend to ignore it. However, I was proud of myself for not saying the Pledge of Allegience (which used to come up at least twice a month), during a three-year stint with a municipality. No one ever noticed, or at least no one ever commented.

  8. Rana*

    This would make me profoundly uncomfortable. I’ve worked in too many places where people made assumptions about my religious and political beliefs, and it was clear that my choice was to either be open about them and face an ongoing mixture of hostility and “gee, how weird” curiosity, or be closeted and uncomfortable.

    For example, I had one co-worker, who I otherwise quite liked, frequently refer to people by saying things like “He’s X, but he’s a really neat guy,” even though she knew full well that I was also X, and, therefore, would not find his being X a problem. We were in a community where X was considered unusual and not quite acceptable, and while she was open-minded herself, she’d grown up surrounded by people who needed that sort of disclaimer, and so it had become a kind of reflex.)

    But that was relatively mild. The worst instance was being at a company holiday party where we were expected to recite stanzas from a “humorous” poem that mocked some of my more important beliefs. I was lucky in that it was finished before it reached our table, and I had to choose between participating in the denigration of my values or spoiling the “fun.”

    Now, a simple blessing over a meal is nowhere near as egregious, but what it implies to me is that the person giving the blessing has given little or no thought to the non-believers at the company, and that is, honestly, disrespectful at best, and coercive at worst. It’s one thing when one’s at a private gathering, or the prayer is given at a religious institution (I’ve worked at several, and had no problems there), but when your audience is diverse and expecting to attend an event that’s secular rather than religious in nature, it feels both self-centered and exclusionary.

    (I also tend to believe that religion is essentially a private, personal thing or something to be shared among a community of fellow believers, so putting it on display in a crowd of mixed folks seems strange to me.)

    Ultimately, for me it’s about respecting other’s beliefs or non-beliefs, and not expecting them to participate, however passively, in a religious activity not of their choosing.

    1. Rana*

      I probably wouldn’t say anything, though. I’d just continue being uncomfortable in silence… as were probably some of the other guests at this function.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Now, a simple blessing over a meal is nowhere near as egregious, but what it implies to me is that the person giving the blessing has given little or no thought to the non-believers at the company, and that is, honestly, disrespectful at best, and coercive at worst. It’s one thing when one’s at a private gathering, or the prayer is given at a religious institution (I’ve worked at several, and had no problems there), but when your audience is diverse and expecting to attend an event that’s secular rather than religious in nature, it feels both self-centered and exclusionary … Ultimately, for me it’s about respecting other’s beliefs or non-beliefs, and not expecting them to participate, however passively, in a religious activity not of their choosing.”


    3. EngineerGirl*

      I’ve encountered the mocking too- and it is just WRONG.

      One thing I do need to point out. Many believe that religion is a private thing, and try to enforce that. But did you know that for many of us being private about it actually violates our religious beliefs? So there is a whopper of a conflict with those who think it should be private.

      I think you can consider it to be a core values conflict.

      1. Student*

        Yeah, we’re all well aware that many religions require you to go out and tell people about it.

        Not a single one of those religions requires you to tell every person that you ever encounter. We all know that, too.

        The specific problem that people have with religious proselytizing at work is that work is not particularly voluntary. If I don’t have any intention of converting, I can walk away from you in a public space (even if you are the CEO). I can’t always walk away from you at work (especially if you are the CEO).

        You have every right to go try to find converts and talk about your religion – on your own time, off the job. I’ll fight to the death for your right to tell me about your religion in public spaces, on the internet, at your house of worship. I’d rather be homeless and starving than let you corner me in a cubicle (or at a compulsory work social event) and listen to you tell me about your religion at work.

        So take your “core values conflict” and please put it to good use by looking for converts in your public life instead of your business life. Unless you are being held in slavery, you can meet your obligation to your co-workers and to your religion with ease; there is no conflict. Your argument is called a “false dichotomy” and it’s a classic fallacy.

      2. Mike B.*

        “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

        Didn’t you say you were a Christian?

        In any event, too bad. Your right to observe your religion by being vocal about it is, in the workplace, trumped by my right to not be harassed by people who want to evangelize. You can track people down anywhere else you like if you need to do that.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Both of you are wrong. I have a right to proselytize as much as I have a right to talk about politics or the ball game. And you have a right to say “I’m uncomfortable with that, please stop”.

          “Didn’t you say you were a Christian? In any event, too bad”

          Wow. Thanks for the fine example of secular intolerance.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Actually, if you’re in a position of authority in the workplace, you may not have the right, if it can be construed as inappropriate pressure on employees (who may not feel free to tell you to stop). But regardless, it’s certainly widely recognized as inappropriate and unwelcome to push religious beliefs on others in the workplace, just as it would be inappropriate to push drinking or dieting on someone at work.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Oh I agree. Just like the boss asking you to donate to his favorite charity etc. It is about the ability to freely say “please stop”

              1. ThatHRGirl*

                Religion is a protected class. Liking the Yankees over the Red Sox is not. Refusing to buy Girl Scout Cookies is not.

                1. Jamie*

                  “Refusing to buy Girl Scout Cookies is not.”

                  Refusing to buy Girl Scout cookies is our right. But I do consider the fact that no one is selling them in my workplace to be a violation of my rights as an employee.

                  Seriously, I would kill for a thin mint right now.

                2. ThatHRGirl*

                  This is true, Jamie :)

                  What I really meant is, people who do not eat Girl Scout Cookies are not a legally protected class and therefore have no real basis to complain if someone asks them to support the cause (although if they decline politely and the person persists, that’s just douche behavior)…

                  And believe me, when I read the Solicitation policy to our new hires I so desperately want to say “BUT if any of your rugrats are selling Girl Scout cookies, candy bars or the like PLEASE hit me up on the DL”. I mean, hello, pregnant lady here. Easy target for compulsive food purchasing.

            2. Elizabeth*

              I’m also assuming that if, for example, a sales clerk at a store were routinely proselytizing to customers the store would be fully within its rights to terminate that clerk because of it – even if the clerk’s religion had proselytizing as a main tenet. Is that correct?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That’s correct. It’s also true if the employee were harassing coworkers about religion. The EEOC says this: “If an employee’s proselytizing interfered with work, the employer would not have to allow it. Similarly, if an employee complained about proselytizing by a co-worker, the employer can require that the proselytizing to the complaining employee cease. Moreover, if an employee was proselytizing an employer’s customers or clients in a manner that disrupted business, or that could be mistaken as the employer’s own message, the employer would not have to allow it. Where the religiously oriented expression is limited to use of a phrase or greeting, it is more difficult for the employer to demonstrate undue hardship. On the other hand, if the expression is in the manner of individualized, specific proselytizing, an employer is far more likely to be able to demonstrate that it would constitute an undue hardship to accommodate an employee’s religious expression, regardless of the length or nature of the business interaction. An employer can restrict religious expression where it would cause customers or co-workers reasonably to perceive the materials to express the employer’s own message, or where the item or message in question is harassing or otherwise disruptive.”

          2. Anonymous*

            If someone tried to talk to me about Jesus at work, they would land very quickly on the list of people I would never let talk to customers ever.

          3. Anonymous*

            Honestly, proselytizing at work is just entirely inappropriate. Talking about sport is not the same: ‘wow, did you see Louis Hamilton win at the weekend?’ (sorry, don’t do ball games!) vs ‘hey, this is what I believe and I’d like to talk to you about it and try to get you to believe the same thing’. One is a conversation (although I know that for some football is virtually a religion…), the other is an attempt to try to get someone to change their worldview and belief. They are very very different, and don’t really compare. On politics though – best to keep that out of the office as well.

            I had a line manager once who took the fact that I had a degree in theology and history of religion as proof that it was fine to try this on me. Luckily I’m no wallflower, and thanks to that degree knew a hell of a lot more about her religion than she did – but for a less robust character, that would verge on bullying.

          4. Mike C.*

            But if I tell you to stop, aren’t I stepping on your right to practice your religion the way you see fit?

              1. KellyK*

                Okay, so if an individual employee can tell you to stop (and you have to respect that), how about an employer pre-emptively telling you that you can’t proselytize in specific ways that people are likely to find unpleasant (as long as this isn’t banning you from sharing your beliefs at all)?

                For example, suppose a company policy specifically prohibits badgering people about religion (and gives examples like cornering someone in their office and telling them that they need to convert or they’ll burn in hell).

                Is that an acceptable policy, or is the office proselytizer allowed to corner all their coworkers, individually, to tell them they’re in danger of hellfire until each one tells them to stop?

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  Whoa ! The computer took part of my post as HTML code. Again.

                  Yes, harassing people for name_a reason is wrong.

                2. KellyK*

                  EngineerGirl, I’m glad we agree on that. But I’m also pretty sure there are people who sincerely believe that badgering people is a good way to get converts. (So many people wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think it was going to work.)

                  My point is that even if someone feels that, religiously, they *have* to do something at work, that doesn’t obligate an employer to let them if it disrupts or interferes with the work.

          5. KellyK*

            Having a legal right to do something doesn’t mean it’s work-appropriate (or that you can’t or shouldn’t be fired or disciplined if you do it in a work-inappropriate fashion). It’s no more appropriate to hassle or badger someone about their religion than it is to hassle them about their diet or politics.

            I think it’s possible to share your faith without badgering people, just as it’s possible to share your politics or your food ethics respectfully. There’s a big difference between saying “I believe in thus and such,” and “You need to believe in thus and such,” regardless of what the topic is. There’s also a difference between saying what you believe when it comes up and turning every conversation in that direction.

            It’s also worth remembering that just because someone has the right to say, “You’re making me uncomfortable, please stop,” that doesn’t mean they will feel free to do so.

          6. Anonymous*

            That verse is one of the core values of how my religious denomination practices Christianity. Don’t assume that all Christians welcome public prayer and prostelytizing either. However you practice your religious freedom, recognize that you are stepping on someone else’s. Including fellow Christians.

            1. Samantha Jane Bolin*

              I totally agree! I’ve gone to church my entire life and have become pretty liberal in my beliefs over the years. For example, I have issue with people who take the Bible literally word for word. I’m extremely uncomfortable with those who proselytize in public. This includes prayers before events and other public functions. Growing up in the Bible Belt, it’s become obvious to me that those who make the biggest spectacle over being a “Christian” are typically the ones who are the least “Christian.” I strive to be a person who demonstrates their faith by example and deed rather than one who shouts it the loudest.

              1. Samantha Jane Bolin*

                *have issue with people who* was a bad choice of words. Should have said, “I don’t….”

    4. Anonymous*

      In my personal opinion, I get more offended by hearing how people treat others regarding politics than with religion (in everyday life). Religion I find fascinating, particularly with their histories. I can see nothing wrong with someone giving a prayer of thanksgiving, which basically is what a prayer over the meal is. I don’t think this OP’s boss is being malicious in trying to convert all to his denomination.

      It’s the politics that bug me. I was in the office back when the Republican primaries were in full swing, and I overheard a couple of people talking about President Obama and the election in November. From an educated professional, I heard a woman say in so many words that anyone who doesn’t vote for President Obama is a moron. I felt embarrassed by that. Now she has alienated her coworkers who want to vote Republican. I don’t believe the office is the place for politics, but by saying that (and it was pretty loud), she created an uncomfortable space if the subject was to come up. If she just plainly said she disagreed with Republicans and stated why, then fine. But she came across as unprofessional. And yes, I would feel the same way if a Republican said that. The office is not the place.

      **Please don’t turn this into a political discussion. It’s just pointing out how certain topics are/can be sensitive and can alienate others in the workplace. Religion, politics…just leave some things at the door.**

      1. Julie*

        “Religion I find fascinating, particularly with their histories. I can see nothing wrong with someone giving a prayer of thanksgiving, which basically is what a prayer over the meal is.”

        As a Jew who studied the history of Christianity at the graduate level, has a best friend who’s Hindu, another who’s Wiccan, and a third who’s Muslim, I too find religion fascinating and love having long conversations about it. But when I sit down at a table and someone leads a prayer that states, “We thank you, Jesus, through whom all good things come…”, that makes me uncomfortable. (NB: I don’t actually know the Christian prayer for Grace.)

        It’s one thing to have interesting talks about religion, and another to be asked to pray to another person’s god.

        1. Julie*

          I should note that this refers to events that are billed as secular, which most business events are. When I go to a Christian wedding or to a holiday dinner at my Hindu friend’s house, I have absolutely no problem with prayers to that person’s god. I keep respectfully silent and allow them their moment.

          But when it’s a business event or other secular occasion, it feels very uncomfortable.

          1. Anonymous*

            I have heard of people avoiding ceremonies and holiday dinners with friends just because they are uncomfortable being within the realms of another’s religion.

    5. JT*

      All well-said Rana.

      “I also tend to believe that religion is essentially a private, personal thing or something to be shared among a community of fellow believers, so putting it on display in a crowd of mixed folks seems strange to me.”

      Speaking as a judgmental “secularist,” I have a lot more respect for religions that share this view — and some do — and a lot less for the ones that are more evangelical or pushy to non-believers.

  9. ChristineH*

    I personally don’t interpret this as the boss trying to force his religious beliefs on his employees and guests, but I do agree with Alison that it’s not wise. I don’t mind saying a prayer before a family meal or even before the meal at a wedding reception because that’s what I grew up with. However, I would feel uncomfortable if a prayer is said during a work-related event because I know not everybody is comfortable with it.

    If the CEO must include a pre-meal prayer of some sort, how about a “moment of silence”. That way, each person can pray in their own way (or not) and not feel excluded or uncomfortable.

    1. Just Me ( another one )*

      If the CEO has to do something like a prayer that is the way to go.
      I think people who normally say a prayer before eating do their own thing anyway…… privately… without prompting.

    2. ThatHRGirl*

      Exactly. Or a toast of sorts: “Let’s all raise our glass and be thankful – to continued health, happiness, company success, etc.”

  10. Just Me ( another one )*

    I can pretty much gaurantee that as a general rule more people would not like or not understand if a prayer was said other than the basic Christain type prayer ( as the OP stated ). That is what most people are used to. That is where the issue comes with stuff like that. As long as it is the norm it… no problem.

    But if the prayer was a…. lets light hannukah candles type thing I can’t imagine non jews embracing this and going “woo hoo pass the latkes !! “. I can pretty much promise people would question it. I can pretty much say.. they’d say.. Hey I am not Jewish.

    I am not saying any religion is better than another but I am going by my 49 years of exp with this type of issue. I promise that if a prayer was said that was not the norm.. it would be a problem.

    No religion should be mixed in with the type of thing the OP is talking about. People do notice that stuff . I do not go to work to hear religion.

    1. Anth*

      Only people who’ve never had latkes would have a problem with this. Everyone else would actually say “whoo hoo pass the latkes!!!”

  11. Editor*

    I’ve lived in communities where people were actually incredulous that praying at graduation, before school board meetings or at other public events wasn’t universal.

    My stint in a Bible Belt-type area taught me this: If the prayer talks about “Father God,” “the triune God,” “Jesus the Son of God,” or similar very specific wording about a Christian god, then you are probably dealing with an evangelical Christian. There are many evangelicals who equate limiting public prayer to a war on Christianity, and they may claim they are being persecuted. Other Christians who are equally dedicated to religion may not feel public prayer is necessary, but they don’t seem as vociferous as certain evangelicals.

    The community I grew up in had public prayer at school events and other public events. The clergymen who gave those prayers all seemed to abide by a convention to be as universal and unspecific as possible: “Dear Lord, we ask you to bless these graduates…” or “God in your infinite mercy we ask…” The difference is that these general prayers don’t define the god very well, so the prayer is Judeo-Christian, but not nearly as specific as references to Jesus or the trinity are.

    Since I don’t want someone else’s very specific theology rammed down my throat, I have become more troubled by public prayer, particularly when people claim that doing away with prayer at, say, graduation, will mean the community will be much worse off. Public prayer isn’t a magic cure-all — it won’t stop addicts from being addicted overnight, and it won’t guarantee that the graduates never are mean to anyone ever again. I struggle with the difference between being devout and being superstitious, and increasingly to me, public prayer seems more like superstitious Pharisaic placating of a magic sky god, not a sincere plea to the Christian God.

    In addition, I look around the community where I live now, and in about a decade, it has gone from being almost lily white to being much more mixed. There are now many women walking around with scarves on their heads and many Indian families and more Asians of various nationalities. I know the area where I live has seen an influx of Moslems from Africa and from the former Yugoslavia, Indians from India (or New Jersey or wherever), Hispanics, and Asians from overseas or from larger cities. With that diversity, the assumption of the universality of Christianity becomes even more suspect.

    A moment of silence might be an acceptable way to transition away from the full-fledged prayer, since the CEO and others couldn’t say they were deprived of the opportunity to pray.

    1. Laura L*

      I get what you’re saying, but I would be careful about using the phrase Judeo-Christian. I’m not accusing you of doing this, but it’s often used by Christians to defend public displays of Christianity by saying they are inclusive, when they really aren’t.

      For, one, Jewish prayers are very different from Christian prayers (with the caveat that I don’t know every Jewish prayer). They are worded differently, they are general recited in Hebrew, there are different prayers that are appropriate in different situations. Jews don’t make up their own wording to prayers in the same way most Christians do. They also generally don’t pray in English.

      Also, to me (I’ve never lived in the bible belt, so YMMV), the word “lord” used in a prayer is generally a tip off the the person is reciting a Christian prayer.

  12. Student*

    I think that, unless you are an adviser to the CEO or have the ear of one of his advisers, no good will come of raising this issue. Consider it a culture fit issue, and act accordingly. That means you should leave if you think you’ll never fit in, stick around and think about it if you aren’t sure, and chalk it up to a workplace quirk that you accept but dislike if you feel that it’s mostly a good place to work.

    I’m one of those atheists you had the grace (pun intended) to think about. Speaking, presumptuously, for all the other atheists and religious minorities – we’re used to this kind of thing. If all you’re asking is for a moment of silence on rare occasion, then I’ll go along with it and probably not care. I usually think to myself at moments like that, “Oh those wacky Christians, they’ve forgotten they aren’t the only ones who work here.” I have moments like that when men in charge start giving very macho speeches to the clearly mixed-gendered workforce, or wealthy corporate bigwigs start acting like poor folk don’t exist. The vast majority of the time, it’s just a brief and unusual reminder that I’m a bit different from the norm, and not a horrible experience.

    That said, if it’s part of a bigger picture of exclusion at your workforce, it’s more of a problem. That will drive us weirdos away after a while. If you’re a little fish at this company, though, you’re never going to get the opportunity to make a decent business case of why the CEO might benefit from being inclusive at business events, and you’ll just come off as a P.C. whiner.

    Oh, and if you do decide to try to make the case that this is not a good business practice, then I have some practical advice for you. Do not mention atheism when you are trying to make a case for religious diversity. I appreciate that you thought of us, but we’re more hated than any other religion in the US (U. of Minnesota study in 2006). Don’t mention Islam, either, because they’ve got the #2 spot on the hate list. If you have to point at someone else, find a different religion to mention, preferably one that matters to your business interests in some way. One that doesn’t have a high potential to induce revulsion in the person that you are trying to persuade. Sometimes, the best way to be a friend to a disliked minority (like an atheist) is not to point her out in an unfriendly crowd to justify your own discomfort.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Speaking, presumptuously, for all the other atheists and religious minorities – we’re used to this kind of thing.”

      For what it’s worth, I’m a non-praticing Jew, and I’m not used to this sort of thing, and it would bother me. It would bother me if I were an employee, and it would bother me if I were one of the guests at what I expected to be a secular business event. I think we can’t assume that all non-members-of-the-dominant religion will or won’t be bothered (or for that matter, that all members of the dominant religion will be comfortable with it either); there’s a wide range of reactions to this, which of one of the reasons why it just shouldn’t happen.

      1. Student*

        It’s not that this kind of incident shouldn’t bother you. I didn’t mean my comment to come off that way. It’s normal to be bothered when you’re excluded. I think that, as a minority, it shouldn’t surprise you that not everyone will remember that you exist. I’m glad to hear that you haven’t had this problem, but in my corner of the Midwest it is extremely common to assume that everyone is Christian by default.

        I do feel strongly that an isolated incident like the OP describes shouldn’t be so off-putting that it influences your business decisions. There’s a huge difference between persecution and ignorant exclusion. If there’s no evidence the CEO was malicious, it’s best to assume that he’s just oblivious. Minority religions were forgotten, not scorned.

        Making a fuss over what amounts to a minor social snub from the CEO is not a good way to increase religious tolerance at work. It’d be like complaining to the CEO that there was no vegetarian option at the meal. If this was a co-worker or a direct manager, it’s a different story. You have a lot more influence over people you work with on a daily basis, so it’s easier to expect accommodations and inclusion. You don’t have much influence over the average CEO, and you shouldn’t use it unless he goes over the line from ignorance to bigotry.

        1. Danielle*

          “There’s a huge difference between persecution and ignorant exclusion. If there’s no evidence the CEO was malicious, it’s best to assume that he’s just oblivious”

          This is one of the most logical comments I’ve seen on this thread.

          It reminds me of “flesh-toned” stockings. I’m Black, and so many of us complain about panty-hose, bandages, bras, etc., not be “flesh-toned”. But when I do see a “flesh-toned” item for Black women, it’s always of a darker hue. Some people mistake me for white or Latina. Where’s my “flesh-tone”?

          I think it just all gets a bit ridiculous…

  13. Cassie*

    I had dinner w/ my two bosses at a restaurant once. It wasn’t a work event, but we were traveling to an event. Both of them are Christian (I am not) and one of them said grace before we started eating.

    I’ve had lunches with them before (either just the 3 of us or with other people) and neither of them have said grace before a meal. (Is it something that is said only before dinner, or any meal?).

    Living in the U.S., which despite all of its diversity, seems predominately Christian (*seems* is the operative word since I don’t know the religious breakdown of the US) – I am kind of used to it. I wouldn’t say it made me uncomfortable, although it was a little awkward. And I imagine it would not have been said if there were more people at the dinner – only because it was just the 3 of us.

    I guess context matters – grace seems okay because they were expressing their thanks for the food they were about to eat. On the other hand, I once had a choreographer lead a prayer before we went onstage for a viewing. It wasn’t even a big performance or anything – it was only a work-in-progress showing. And she prayed to God that we would all remember the choreography, and that we would do well. I found that offensive.

    1. TychaBrahe*

      I went out to lunch with a group of coworkers while visiting their division. We ordered. The food was delivered. And after the server left the table, I started eating.

      And they all joined hands and held out theirs for me and said grace.

      It’s been over a decade. I assume the prayer was Christian in nature, but I no longer remember. I do remember feeling humiliated that I had so obviously violated the ritual of “pray first, then eat” and marked myself as someone with different customs and beliefs.

      All of which could have been very easily avoided if they had not made assumptions about me and observed a moment of silent prayer. I have a Christian friend who does this, and I wait for her to finish because I know she is doing it, but if I started without her, it would not be nearly so obvious.

  14. Kathryn T.*

    I always wonder, whenever people say they wouldn’t mind sitting through a Jewish or Muslim prayer, whether they would feel the same thing about an enthusiastic round of “Hail Satan.” After all, Jews and Christians decidedly pray to the same god, and most people agree that Muslims do as well. It’s a really big difference to have the prayer be to a deity whose existence you heartily do not want to endorse or appear to endorse. I’m a Christian, and a prayer in a purportedly-secular environment like a workplace dinner would put me quite off.

    1. KellyK*

      Ha! I think that’s a fantastic analogy. I’m going to remember it and use it.

      To seriously answer the question, if it were done in jest, I would laugh along, but if it were meant seriously, I would be deeply uncomfortable and would leave the room if at all possible.

    2. khilde*

      Wow, that “hail Satan” thing hit me between the eyes. I’m Christian and understand the desire to want to publicly express thanks to God, but I can also see the business and practical sense of not doing it in this context. I agree with Alison.

      Then I got to thinking, “I wouldn’t mind hearing a Jewish prayer, a Muslim prayer and then a Christian prayer” (though time consuming). But hell no, I wouldn’t want to hear the “hail Satan thing.”

      Sometimes I think a person needs to hear a vivid example or imagine themselves in a verydifferent circumstance to “get it.” Good post.

    3. UrsulaMinor*

      I’m really glad you made this point! I’m an Atheist, and I think our feelings might be a bit similar here – as you would be pretty uncomfortable if people were throwing about a “Hail Satan” – something you don’t believe in (I presume) and feel pretty strongly about on top of that.

      I have always felt pretty uncomfortable sitting through grace in a public space, because I have pretty strong feelings about belief in the supernatural. When I was younger I used to bow my head, because everyone else was doing it, but it felt really wrong to participate in some one else’s religious ceremony when I was not a part of their religion.

      Now a-days I just sit quietly – I don’t mind that friends and friends and friends want to do this before their meals. But in more public venues I tend to glance around for other non-participants, and there are always more than a few, at least where I live, and they almost universally look uncomfortable, or have a weird, stoic sort of look on their face.

      1. Kathryn T.*

        In all honesty, I’m just as uncomfortable with public Christian prayer as I am with any other kind. More so, maybe, because my reading of the Bible explicitly denigrates it. In a private dinner, in a personal space, in a family dinner or wedding or celebration — go nuts. In the public square? Keep it out, it’s not appropriate.

    4. Anon2*

      This was once explicitly demonstrated in my workplace. Years ago, we went from not having personal desks to having personal desks and some people really went overboard in decorating their cubicle (think, wall-to-wall pictures, sayings, articles, etc. literally, wall-to-wall). So, some people decided to prominantly and copiously display their religious affiliation and inspirational quotes/articles. We had a fairly diverse workplace, so not everyone felt comfortable with the displays. I can’t remember now if they tried to complain to management first and that failed, or not, but they then put up their own prominently displayed atheist views. Well, that was quickly determined to be inappropriate. To be fair, it could be because it was viewed as purposely incendiary but it was also a very disappointing illustration of how different religious views were not welcome at our secular company. (part of this was an issue is that even though we had our own desks, we all still used each other’s desks when needed so there was no way to keep it private)

        1. Anon2*

          Yeah, we’re in the US. I think you’re right, but no one pushed it that far. Over the years, my company has done several things that (IMO) leave them open to successful litigation. Mostly it’s not strictly illegal, but if an employee wanted to sue them I think they’d have enough to force the company to settle.

      1. Jamie*

        I think the overdone decor is tacky even when it’s not incendiary.

        Except that one woman who posted here once about her Hello Kitty collection at work, of which I’m still in awe. I don’t have the guts to do it myself, but if I worked with her I’d smile all the time…but I digress.

        I’ve worked with some people who do that and I can’t help but wonder how awkward it would be if they were terminated. They wouldn’t be able to quietly pack their personnel belongings in a box with dignity…they’d be ripping double sided tape off the walls and getting a dolly to move furniture.

        Not me. Toss a couple of KISS bobble heads and a Hello Kitty beany baby in a box, grab my lipgloss and excedrine migraine out of the drawer…and I can leave behind the toobrush/toothpaste and other incidentals in my drawer in the ladies room. Done and done.

  15. Laura M.*

    In a lot of ways, I think this is blown out of proportions. Hopefully, this CEO didn’t lead some long winded prayer, that lasted over ten minutes. If his version of grace is anything like mine (rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, yay Lord!) than it would, at most be a few seconds of awkwardness.
    If he simply said something like “I thank the Lord for all our many blessings”; again only one short sentence, than I can’t imagine it being a big problem. Especially, if this was a religiousish event (ex: company christmas party). No one is really being asked to participate when the CEO is saying a few words before your dinner…
    Now, in this case, he requested that everyone bow their heads while he lead a more ‘real’ prayer. (I guess ‘rub a dub dub’ wasn’t good enough for him). So I think if the event were big enough and I were sitting far enough back, I would roll my eyes because this man is putting on a show. People who actually say grace regularly tend to relax when out in public places because prayer isn’t about being seen. Furthermore, they wouldn’t usually be giving directions, because its hard to pray wrong…
    I agree with Alison, when she said that it is your prerogative to speak up about it, if you want to. However I wouldn’t. I doubt the CEO would listen. He wants people to know he said grace. It’s silly. I’m catholic, and I would try and ignore it. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things; however, this may be just another thing to add the list of many many things that are somewhat inappropriate for the work place. If that’s the case than, yes I would speak up…

      1. Danielle*

        Is that a serious question? It’d be one thing if it was a winter solstice party, but if it’s billed as a CHRISTMAS party, they why would a prayer seem so odd? I know in this day and age Christmas is seen as more of a commercial even than a religious holiday, but that’s exactly what it is, a religious holiday.

        Even if you call it a holiday party, that’d include Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and maybe some other religious winter holiday I’m forgetting, and a prayer would occur.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But it’s entirely inappropriate to have a religious celebration with prayer in the workplace. I would be shocked if I attended a workplace holiday party that included prayer. That’s incredibly exclusionary and inappropriate.

          1. Danielle*

            I guess I just don’t get that logic. Why would the prayer seem any more “exclusionary and inappropriate” than the holiday party itself? I just don’t get it.

            If a person is a non-theist, seems to me like they wouldn’t attend these events at all. I’m not trying to be difficult, but your statement is truly confusing. That’s like saying you’re offended by being asked for money when you attend a fundraiser.

              1. Danielle*

                Of course. My mom’s friend is an atheist who has celebrated Christmas with our family for many years. I know that Christmas is celebrated as just a winter holiday by many.

                But you can’t deny that it IS a Christian holiday; that’s a fact. Whether or not someone chooses to celebrate it as secular doesn’t negate its origins.

                1. fposte*

                  And you can, actually, deny that it’s a Christian holiday, and many do, given its non-Christian origins.

                2. Anon*

                  This is so funny. This is why I get crazy about “Christmas” celebrations at the office (I’m Jewish, and I find them tone-deaf and exclusionary), but this viewpoint is roundly dismissed (and gets me called “Grinch,” true fact) because “everyone knows Christmas is SECULAR!”

                3. Jamie*

                  It’s a Christian holiday to Christians. I would agrue that there more secular components to the Christmas season than religious – and it is more universally celebrated in this country than religion is practiced.

                  Technically Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day are religious holidays also – but the origin has very little impact now, compared to the secular traditions.

              2. Gayle*

                I’m an atheist, and I celebrate Christmas. That doesn’t make it secular. It’s still a holiday very steeped in Christian traditions, and one that would probably not be celebrated by people from a non-Christian origin (Jews, Muslims, etc).

                From what my Jewish friends tell me, Hanukkah is less religious than Christmas. Hanukkah is not a major holiday in Israel.

                It’s easy to see Christmas as secular when you’re in a Christian surrounding. When you’re not… it’s very obviously a Christian holiday.

                1. jmkenrick*

                  Exactly. I also celebrate Christmas despite not being religious. In fact, I LOVE Christmas. I consider it part of my family’s culture (since we’re from traditionally Christian countries).

                  However, I also know many non-believing Jews who celebrate Hanukkah as part of their cultural tradition, and I wouldn’t necessarily feel appropriate doing that. (Maybe if I was invited to particpate, but I wouldn’t do it on my own.)

                2. Naama*

                  Ha, my very Jewish mother LOVES Christmas. It’s bizarre. I think she likes shiny objects hanging from trees, really. And cookies.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Most company holiday parties are billed as relatively secular (even “Christmas parties” are usually billed as pretty secular, even though they aren’t secular to most non-Christmas-celebrators): tree, cookies, gifts, but no creche or crucifix, for example. I’ve never seen a company holiday party that included prayer.

              1. Danielle*

                I’m sorry, I get what you’re saying but I just don’t believe it makes sense.

                I’ve been to work Christmas parties that have led a prayer. And for the people who didn’t participate, there were no repercussions, because we already knew their stance on religion. I guess that just speaks to workplace culture.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s not just about repercussions; it’s about being made to feel uncomfortable over an intensely personal issue that doesn’t belong in most workplaces.

                2. KellyK*

                  Was this at an overtly religious workplace? I would expect a religious school or hospital, or a Christian bookstore, or Chik-Fil-A to include prayers in their holiday parties. But I’d be really surprised if it happened in a work environment that didn’t have that kind of religious basis.

              2. Jamie*

                “tree, cookies, gifts, but no creche or crucifix, for example.”

                The crucifix would be Easter :).

                This has actually got me wondering if religious jewelry is considered offensive in the same way as public prayer. I personally wear a crucifix and miraculous medal – have since I was confirmed. I’ve never thought about it making a statement – and I don’t ever discuss religion at work.

                Just wondering if people would be offended by that in the same was as if someone decorated their office with religious statues or if it falls in the category of head coverings…a personal choice, but not a statement to the world at large.

                Yes, I am avoiding looking at my to do list this morning…you caught me!

                1. Jamie*

                  I can’t argue with that, it’s harder to think of a more personal space than a woman’s decolletage.

                  And I just replied because I love the word decolletage and it so rarely comes up in conversation unless you’re buying a prom dress.

                2. Laura L*

                  This is an interesting issue. I agree with Alison.

                  However, the interesting thing about this is that people generally only consider it making a statement if you aren’t a member of the dominant religion. So, generally, people don’t think wearing a cross is making a statement, but wearing a Flying Spaghetti Monster pendant often is.

                3. Natalie*

                  I don’t know what the medal looks like, but if the crucifix is like most of them – fairly small and plain – people probably don’t even notice.

                  A while back, I interviewed at a non-profit that is religiously identified, even though they do “secular” work. I never would have noticed it if she hadn’t started fiddling with it when I asked about religion and company culture.

                4. Jamie*

                  @Natalie – yep, both small and plain – on the same chain – I don’t do flashy.

                  Weird thinking about this – I lost my parents in early adulthood (mine, not theirs) and they were my mom’s…and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without them since 8th grade. Definitely a talisman and not a statement of belief…as I’ve never felt the need to make a statement of belief at any time.

                  @Laura – I don’t think the religion matters. If I see someone wearing a Star of David or a head covering I don’t think they are making any kind of statement.

                5. Anonymous*

                  Jamie, I think wearing something that belonged to your mom is something that would hold meaning for you. I could not imagine anyone being offended by that. I am a Christain and love the cross but I also love the Star of David.

                6. Laura L*


                  I don’t think I got my point across very well in my first comment!

                  First, let me say that people clearly wear crosses for many reasons and I’m not trying to encourage you or anyone else to not wear one.

                  What I’m trying to say is that expressing a minority religious belief or lack thereof comes with more risk than expressing the majority belief. And while I know many people, like you, won’t judge a person negatively for wearing a Star of David (for example), other people will and you don’t know what the repercussions will be.

                  As someone who is Jewish by heritage and an atheist, I’m cautious about sharing either of those things with other people, because I don’t know how they’ll react. In a place that’s majority Christian, wearing a cross is seen as benign, but wearing a star of David, an atheist pendant, a headscarf, or anything else, is not always viewed the same way.

              3. Anonymous*

                Wow, I’m Christian, and I didn’t know what creche was.

                Anyway, when I was decorating the office one year, another person from the department was getting pretty upset that there wasn’t a Menorah represented. Yet, she never went out to buy one to put in the office.

                1. Gayle*

                  Well… where was the funding for the decorations come from? Unless the decorations were employee-contributed, she shouldn’t have had to buy a Menorah.

                  The company should be proactive about inclusiveness of other religions. It should limit the religious imagery in decorations (crosses, etc) and, if it includes Santa it should also include a Menorah (as well as decoration for other holidays, if there’s anything else you can include).

                  That is YOUR responsibility — not the employee’s — if you’re the one decorating.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Interestingly, this is a really common reaction that I think doesn’t quite solve it. Often people with really good intentions try to be “inclusive” and incorporate everyone’s religion … but there are non-theists to consider too, as well as people whose religious beliefs mean that they shouldn’t be part of another religion’s observances. Keep it all out of the workplace.

                3. Gayle*

                  @AAM — Do you actually advocate no holiday parties or holiday decorations?

                  As much as we can say that “holiday party” is inclusive, it’s really not. It’s obviously about Christmas and maybe-kinda Hanukkah. (However, few non-Christians would be offended by this, as long as you at least make the effort to call it a Holiday Party and other token “inclusiveness” gestures.)

                  I do think that, whenever possible, you shouldn’t indicate any religion. For decorations, that’s probably pretty easy — winter imagery, no Santas, and maybe even no presents.

                  My point was IF you’re going to include Santa or anything Christmas-specific (which you shouldn’t, where possible), try to include some other religions too. You won’t necessarily get all the religions, but at least you’ll send a “it’s not all about Christmas” message.

                  And, as far as including non-theists, probably the best you can do is token “it’s not just Christmas” messages. I’m an atheist, and celebrate Christmas, but would be bothered by all-Christmas decorations — that sends a pretty clear message of “we’re all Christians here”, which would make me uncomfortable. As soon as you start doing ANYTHING for the holidays, you’re promoting one or two religions. Not recognizing any holidays isn’t the right solution either though. The best you can do probably to limit the religion-specific things and, where it does indicate a religion, mix it up a bit.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I do think it’s kind of lame when companies put up Hanukkah decorations in an effort to give “equal time.” Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday like Christmas is, and it comes across to me as forced and unknowledgeable, and a little condescending. (I’m not saying everyone feels like me though, obviously — which is of course the whole point throughout this post.)

                5. Jamie*

                  Why can’t everyone just celebrate “End of the Fiscal Year” like we do?

                  A pleasant company lunch, on the clock, where everyone basks in self-congratulation about the years accomplishments…for about an hour or so and then we go back to work filled with the excitement that only fresh and empty GL accounts can bring.

                  I don’t know why this isn’t a holiday in every office.

              4. jmkenrick*

                My company has a lovely holiday party, but not a Christmas party. It works out fine. I’ve never witnessed any religious influence in it. We also have a reasonably diverse workplace (in terms of cultural backgrounds) and are localed in foggy San Francisco – so I understand that in other places it might be harder to have a ‘holiday party’ without any religious bent.

                As far as decorations, personally, I find that snowflakes are nearly always acceptable. :)

        2. Flynn*

          It’s a party that happens around Christmas time, usually to celebrate the end of the year or something. That’s not automatically religious. Some kind of midwinter celebration is standard throughout history and makes emotional/social sense.

          Christmas is just Christmas. It’s not a religious event.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Uh, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It may not have religious significance to you, but it does to plenty of people. (Which is a point that’s often much clearer to non-Christians than it is to Christians who aren’t especially religious and who assume everyone feels like they do about it.)

            1. Jamie*

              “(Which is a point that’s often much clearer to non-Christians than it is to Christians who aren’t especially religious and who assume everyone feels like they do about it.)”

              And this is why discourse about this is so important. Even reasonable people can inadvertently offend, unaware their own viewpoint can be skewed – but reasonable people would want this pointed out so they can amend their view (when wrong).

              I made the point in another comment that I didn’t see Christmas as a particularly religious holiday – so my viewpoint being from a believing (but not particularly devout) Catholic didn’t take into account how the religious aspect is more significant to non-Christians.

              If this were a workplace issue I would absolutely want someone to point this out, so I didn’t continue to inadvertently offend anyone – i.e. if I were in charge of this end of year party, or something.

              Although, me on any type of party planning committee requires a stretch of the imagination.

              So, while pointing this out can be fraught with risks in dealing with zealots, there can be good to come of it if it’s just a reasonable, if unaware, person who isn’t seeing the whole picture.

            2. Anonymous*

              Yes. Christmas is, after all, the celebration of Jesus’s birth. And if you ever see those signs “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas,” then people should get the idea. However, Christmas has been so commercialized that it has lost its meaning in that sense to quite a few, and many just see it as a family holiday rather than a religious celebration. I know someone who is a child of a Jewish parent and a Catholic parent, and this person proclaims to be an atheist. Yet, this person still celebrates Christmas. That’s what irks me.

              Offices should just call it a holiday party because there are quite a few holidays going on that time, plus New Years.

      2. Laura M.*

        It’s religiousISH, because its based on a religious holiday but severely secularized… But that’s just my take on it…

        1. Gayle*


          Would you call Hanukkah a Jewish holiday? From what I understand, Christmas is much more religious than Hanukkah is. (I don’t think Hanukkah is even celebrated in Israel.)

          Your thinking that Christmas is very secularized is probably because you come from a Christian background. It’s easy to see Christmas as secularized when you’re Christian because, compared with some other holidays, it’s not *that* religious. But it’s definitely “part of” Christianity and is a *Christian* holiday.

          1. TychaBrahe*

            Hannukah is celebrated in Israel, although with seven days instead of eight, and the dreidels have a Peh on them instead of a Shin. “Nes gadol haya po – A great miracle happened here,” instead of “Nes gadol haya sham – A great miracle happened there.”

            But it’s a minor holiday, more of an observance than a celebration. It’s huge here because of the proximity to Christmas.

          2. mishsmom*

            …otherwise it would not be called CHRISTmas… and btw Gayle, Hannukah IS a major holiday in Israel, just not a religious one. It’s mostly for school kids and no one except them gets time off, but one is very aware that the holiday is going on.

            That said, i completely agree with AAM about the equal time. i’m not offended by people celebrating their holiday, nor am i offended by decorations or greetings of Merry Christmas, but i am mildly annoyed by attempts to placate my possible offendedness (i know, i know).

            just my 2 cents

    1. khilde*

      …this man is putting on a show. People who actually say grace regularly tend to relax when out in public places because prayer isn’t about being seen. Furthermore, they wouldn’t usually be giving directions, because its hard to pray wrong…

      I think this is a good point. The CEO was doing it because he either thought it looked good or thought it was the “right thing” to do. Sometimes people like to make a big deal out of “being religious” when all it does is turn most people off. I think some people who have a deep and abiding faith often don’t need to do the “expected” actions that go along with that faith.

  16. jmkenrick*

    As a non-religious person – I wouldn’t be offended, but I would certainly prove Alison’s point in the sense that, although it doesn’t bother me that much – I would definitely prefer a work culture where religious beliefs were not acted on (in fact, that was my main reason for leaving my previous job). So, in choosing to say that prayer, they are lessening their chances of keeping me as an employee.

    Now, that’s totally their prerogative, but I don’t think anyone’s denying that.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I’m not so much likely to be tweaked by the saying of grace per se as I am the possibility that this is a company where religion is generally going to be foregrounded in daily practice. I’d need to think very carefully about the implications there and whether I wanted to be a part of it.

      Overall, there’s lots of stuff that would be socially insignificant to me that I would consider differently if it was expressed in a situation that treated it as a practice or belief of the whole company.

      1. Jaime*

        “Overall, there’s lots of stuff that would be socially insignificant to me that I would consider differently if it was expressed in a situation that treated it as a practice or belief of the whole company.”

        Not to restart the drinking debate up thread, but I think this is the perfect answer. If you’re against drinking, would you work in a bar? No. If you work in a call center and management buys beer everyday at 4pm for an afternoon happy hour, would you work here? Probably not. But, if you work at a call center and the company hands out 2 alcoholic drink tickets to it’s singular holiday party, would you still work there? Almost certainly so.

  17. Anonymous*

    Those who would point out that religion is a right forget that rights are not exclusive; they overlap. A common example is smoking. A person’s right to smoke overlaps with my right to clean air. Exercise of religion is a right, but so is freedom from religion being imposed. People in the majority tend not to see how their religions status is privileged. Just because you are in the majority does not mean that you are right.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      “Your rights end where mine begin” is the correct phrase.

      It is a tough balance, which is why the US has the Supreme Court.

      It is about balance, tolerance, pervasiveness, etc.

      It this particular case, there was a one-time prayer (not pervasive) that wasa fairly short (not egregious). The OP should let it slide, just like we’re asked to let other things slide to get along.

      1. Kathryn T.*

        Repeating my analogy above — would you let it slide if the CEO led everyone in a hearty round of “Hail Satan” before dinner?

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I’d cringe and slide down in my seat! Would I publically challenge him there and then? No. Would I talk to him later about it? Probably.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But then that’s basically agreement with the advice in the original post — speak up and point out that it’s inappropriate and makes people uncomfortable.

      2. Rana*

        The problem is, if you’re a religious minority or an atheist, that you are *always* the person who has to “let it slide” or face potential discrimination and/or proselytizing. That’s not an expression of tolerance; that’s suggesting that people who are invisible minorities should closet themselves to avoid harassment.

        1. Andrea*

          THIS, a thousand times. Thank you. Many American Christians apparently need to be reminded of this.

    2. mh_76*

      LIKE! I’ve vented about “smoking” plenty of times here already…gag! As for religion, I’m probably curious to learn more about yours in an academic sense but don’t want to convert and don’t choose to pray or believe in things sacred/divine.
      (and I’m a lifelong non-smoker)

  18. Tamara*

    As someone who was raised Christian, I would also feel uncomfortable with a prayer at a work event (of any religion, for that matter). However, I wonder if addressing the issue by asking if others’ feelings have been considered is best. Depending on the position of the OP in the company and the personality type of the CEO, it could bring out some defensiveness. If the OP is sure that it would be taken well, by all means. If not, I might start by simply mentioning that it was uncomfortable for me and asking if it would be acceptable to sit out if it should come up again. The discussion could continue from there, depending on the initial reaction. Of course, depending on the branch of Christianity that the CEO believes, even addressing the prayer could potentially cause issues. I’m going based on the idea that the effect of the prayer on others simply wasn’t considered though, and that the OP’s CEO is willing to think beyond his or her own religion.

  19. Jeff*

    Bottom line if she says anything about the prayer she might need to buy your book How to get a job. Her Boss will feel he can’t trust her and people will start to watch her work habits and they will find something and eventually she will be marginalized or let go. It’s a breach of trust from the employee to the boss. Just be thankful you can always use his christen values to your advantage by getting off early to get the kids or go see your sick family member or something. Don’t dig a hole for yourself you can never dig out of. Don’t say anything unless he did something illegal. Then screen from the rafters but until then the only one with something to lose from this is YOU.

  20. Ms Enthusiasm*

    I’m just wondering about a couple of things…

    The OP didn’t mention if this has ever happened before. If this was the one and only time then maybe there were circumstances the OP doesn’t know about. For example, maybe one of the important guests is religious and requested a prayer be said. The CEO decided to accommodate them because they are important in their field and the CEO wants their business. I’m not saying that makes it right but that at least might be a reason for the CEO to say the prayer. Maybe the CEO thought it was ok because technically they were at an outside location during after work hours (even though it was a work event). Again, this is not an excuse but just a possible reason why the CEO thought it would be ok. If this is indeed the ONE and ONLY time this has ever happened and it never happens again I don’t think the OP should say something about a one time social faux pas. I realize the prayer probably did make some people uncomfortable, which is unfortunate and hopefully not the intention of the CEO. This is why I also agree that religion does not belong in the workplace. However, as I said before, I think the OP should just let it go if it is a one time occurance. If it does happen more then the OP needs to decide if they need to say something.

  21. MaryTerry*

    I’m a very religious person, and always say grace before a formal meal, especially when I’m the hostess, BUT this definitely was inappropriate and I would feel uncomfortable – this was a business dinner, the business is not a religious business – does this CEO open his meetings with prayer?

    Maybe he wanted to invite everyone to eat and “fell” into the prayer, because that’s what he does before eating. If so, he needs to plan what to do next time. In most American businesses, verbal prayer is not appropriate.

  22. Anonymous*

    Questions to the OP: Not knowing when this prayer over dinner occurred, but what were the subsequent reactions by your coworkers? Was it the talk of the town at the water cooler or has no one mentioned in? Any passing comments like “That was weird for Jack to say a prayer over dinner” or “I wish Jack hadn’t done that?” Also, what were the looks at the table when it did happen. Did people look around at each other as in “WTF?” Did anyone appear to be squirmy?

    It would be interesting to see how the culture of the workplace reacted. I think that could be an indicator on how you react and discuss this with the higher ups if and when you have another dinner like this one.

      1. Gayle*

        I was at a holiday party for a major tech company, which hired a dance group for mid-dinner entertainment. When the dance group got up there, they said something like, “We’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas. And we say Merry Christmas because Jesus is the real reason for the season.”

        Even at that — which the tech company probably didn’t endorse — everyone’s reaction at my table was basically, “WTF? Did that just happen?” Of course, I was with a group of people in the late 20s, who may be more aware that religion shouldn’t be in the work place.

  23. KDD*

    I agree that religion should be kept out of the workplace. However, having said that, 2 of my clients are very religious owner / operators who make no secret of their beliefs.

    One is Jewish and owns a construction supply company. In addition to closing for all mandatory holidays, they are also closed for all Jewish holidays. The staff love it there because they are treated very well and get a few bonus days off each year (paid).

    The other is Muslim and owns a cabinet making shop (which is actually a fairly large company). They host a huge end of Ramadan BBQ for all staff, even though the majority of their employees are not Muslim. They are not trying to “preach” or to convert but rather want to include the employees in an event that is important to them.

    At these companies, where the beliefs of the owners is well known and understood I don’t think I would have an issue with a prayer before a meal. But in the case like the OP where it came out of left field, I would be uncomfortable too.

    Regarding alcohol at workplace events; my boss does not drink. But he does not discourage anyone else from enjoying a beverage at company events. I rarely drink and if anyone gives me grief – that’s their problem. If someone offers me a drink and I’m not drinking all I say is “no thank you” and that seems to be sufficient. If someone starts to get belligerent about it and you feel threatened, call security. Being taken away drunk by security in front of your boss is usually a pretty decent wake up call.

    1. Gayle*

      The thing is that there’s a big difference between a Jewish boss doing a Jewish prayer (or a Muslim boss doing a Muslim prayer) and a Christian boss doing a Christian prayer. It’s just not the same thing, and would not get the same reactions.

      It’s the difference between the majority group imposing their beliefs and the minority group doing the same thing. A Christian is unlikely to feel excluded or targeted when someone does a Jewish prayer because, well, most people there are Christian anyway. They’re not alone. But when a Christian leads a prayer it has a feeling of “do I need to Christian here?”

      Or to make an analogy — you would react very differently (probably) to a coworker being part of a Black Business Leaders Club than to a White Business Leaders Club. Why? Because White people are coming from a position of “privilege” (much like Christians in the US) and need to be extra careful.

      1. mishsmom*

        well-said! :) i think when one is in the majority they do not realize what the minority thinks/goes through/feels. there’s white privilege (ie, i as a white person do not know what an African American or Hispanic person has to go through), Christian privilege (although in Israel there is Jewish privilege), and male privilege (when a teacher here asked the male students in his class “what did you do today to not get raped” most of the males looked at him like he just fell off the moon. when he asked the females there were several answers…).

        1. Laura L*

          Christian privilege (although in Israel there is Jewish privilege)

          There is also Muslim privilege in many Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries.

          But in the US context, Christian privilege is a very real thing.

  24. Ry*

    I would be very uncomfortable and agree that a prayer held to begin a company meal within the United States is inappropriate (I can’t speak for those working in a country with a national religion. What is appropriate and reasonable in, say, a business in Saudia Arabia or Serbia might be quite different from what is appropriate and reasonable in a business in the US). I would be particularly uncomfortable with a Christian prayer for the reason in my third paragraph.

    In general, my reason is that everyone should be able to feel equally welcome at such an event, and that exclusionary practices like prayers should be avoided, simply to respect others.

    My specific, personal reason for being uncomfortable is that, in all but two denominations (MCC and Unitarian), Christianity specifically condemns and excludes me. I’m male, I’m married to another man, and we’re raising our daughter. Many Christians believe that my marriage and family condemn me to their hell according to their bible. Now, of course, they need to reread Leviticus and Deuteronomy and make sure they’re on top of their game before they begin that argument with me. But the point is, wherever they’ve learnt it, their religion teaches that I am a terrible person. I would absolutely feel excluded from a gathering that invoked that belief system.

    If I were uncomfortable in someone else’s home, it would be his or her right to make me uncomfortable, and it would be my right to say so and/or leave. At a company function, neither Christians nor any other group have any such right.

    Now, everybody please understand that I absolutely agree with Voltaire, who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I support everyone’s right to worship, or not, in any way they choose. I also defend my own right not to have to be hated on by people I work with.

    I currently work almost exclusively with Catholics (and as unique individuals, I adore them, by the way), and we simply don’t talk about religion at work. When we do, they’re well aware that I will be able to disprove any nonsense they want to spout, using textual evidence from their own bible, so they usually just don’t start.

    1. Rana*

      Actually, not all UUs are Christian either (I’m one of the non-Christian varieties) but I appreciate your point. In some of the parts of the country where I lived, just being a liberal, non-Christian UU was enough to make some people think ill of me. Their existence made me very wary of letting people know about my beliefs until I knew them well enough to trust their reaction. I would imagine that goes double in your situation.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Then you can understand that being on the “left coast” that being a sola scriptura might make some of us the minority out here? I keep hearing how christians are the majority, but where I live they are 10 – 15% of the population.

        1. fposte*

          10% Christians of all New Testamentarian stripes? That isn’t common in this country, it’s true. Is there another religion dominant, or is it that it’s fairly pluralistic and nobody has a majority?

        2. Rana*

          I can understand how being a religious minority in a potentially hostile workplace feels, yes. (I’ve lived where people identifying themselves as belonging to my religion comprised 0.8% of the population; yes, I did look it up.) This is why I don’t think prayer performed in public by the boss is appropriate, nor any other expressions of religious belief (or non-belief, for that matter) when it’s not possible for subordinates to opt out without being seen as weirdos, kill-joys, etc.

          It’s also why I don’t expect special accommodation for my beliefs; I’ve worked quite happily in several religiously-affiliated institutions. They understood clearly the difference between performing their religion for themselves and requiring it of all employees. All I require is that I not have to closet myself in order to be accepted, and that I not have to worry about whether my co-workers or my boss will give me a hard time if I’m not a co-believer.

          Perhaps surprisingly, I found that the religious affiliates where I worked understood this better than some of my more “secular” employers, who frequently assumed a generic default Christian identity for everyone. There’s a difference between teaching in a classroom that happens to have crosses on the walls and being required to attend mass, for example, or to teach catechism, or to participate, however silently and unwillingly, in group prayer.

    2. Julia*

      I was thinking of raising this myself (as another gay person).

      I think it’s entirely reasonable to make accomodations for the religious beliefs of others where possible, and I’m not bothered if individual workmates disapprove of me, that’s their right. But it’s not appropriate to give the impression that there is any “official” stance on religious (or political) issues in a workplace.


  25. Joey*

    So why is prayer accepted and even glorified in professional sports? They’re employers too.

  26. KellyK*

    I’m a Christian, and I would find it inappropriate and unprofessional because of the expectation that everyone participate and the disregard for anyone who doesn’t believe or might be uncomfortable.

    Because it’s the CEO, speaking up about it may well be a very bad idea, because it could get you branded as a trouble-maker. That, in and of itself, should show that this is kind of coercive (implicitly, even if it doesn’t meet the EEOC’s definition of non-voluntary). Anyone who finds it deeply uncomfortable is going to have to wonder what repercussions there will be for them objecting or even quietly not participating. There’s also no real option for subtle non-participation, because it would be disruptive to get up and leave.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I think you totally nailed it – the issue with this (as opposed to drinking) is that it’s mandated by the CEO, who employees would be *reasonably* concerned about questioning – AND there’s no polite way to abstain from a group prayer.

      Granted, I do think there are plenty of polite individuals who would take no offense or make no judgement if someone didn’t participate, but there are also people who would.

      That said, I agree that it’s their legal right, I just don’t think it’s a practical choice for a non-religious organization, and I understand why the OP was uncomfortable.

  27. Michael C*

    While a prayer doesn’t seem like a big deal and is allowable, I agree with AAM – I believe it is a bad idea. Imagine a satan worshipper wanting to send prayers out to satan (spilling blood, offering first-born – whatever it may be). I think that, while it is allowable, would make a lot of people uncomfortable.

    Extreme case :) but think it helps with weighing in. Of course, if it is a church or religion affiliated non-profit, whatever grace/ritual might not be as weird.

  28. Anonymous*

    Amen (pun intended) to the first response on this thread. Let’s stop worrying so much and getting uptight over each other’s religions. I’d be happy to listen to another prayer, eat, and move on. Half of the trivial issues in workplace litigation are a direct result of lack of tolerance, close-minded buffoons who are so easily offended. Live and let live.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just because something doesn’t bother you doesn’t mean that it doesn’t legitimately bother other people. People are vastly different when it comes to their practice or non-practice of religion. It’s close-minded to assume that because you feel one way, so should others. This all has an easy solution: keep religion out of the workplace, particularly when employer-led. Done.

      1. MaryTerry*

        Can we keep politics and “encouragement” to donate to United Way out of there also?

    2. Anonymous*

      And there are people who say those who go about saying their prayers are close minded to those who don’t want to participate in said religion’s prayer.

      Everyone’s open and close minded at the same time.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No. No one here has suggested that people shouldn’t be able to say their own prayer over their food if they’d like to. It’s making it a group-wide event that’s the issue.

  29. Scott M*

    This is a topic I’m interested in, so I wish I had gotten in at the beginning of the conversation. Anyway, I wanted to make a few points.

    I think that people on both sides of the issue throw around the word ‘offended’ too much. I think a better term would be ‘uncomfortable’. And while we can’t always expect be perfectly comfortable, it’s probably in a company’s best interests to avoid making employees personally uncomfortable. Especially when it really isn’t related to the core functions of the business.

    Another thing: it’s problematic comparing religion to other workplace issues. Because religion is a special case, like it or not. It is usually a much more personal, and hence potentially divisive, issue. Also, while this really isn’t a legal issue, don’t forget that the United States Constitution specifically mentions religious freedom (however you interpret it). Before anyone lays into me about this statement… I’m not making an argument of the legality of religios expression in the office, just showing that religion is a “special case” that isn’t easily compared to other issues (like drinking)

    Prayers are offered at our company’s shareholder meetings and any company-wide meal (holiday party, project team dinners, etc). I do find this uncomfortable and unprofessional, but we are in the Bible Belt so it’s considered normal.

    On the other hand, religion is never mentioned in regular business functions, so I “count my blessings”, so-to-speak ;)

    1. khilde*

      I think that people on both sides of the issue throw around the word ‘offended’ too much. I think a better term would be ‘uncomfortable’.

      Scott – I thought this same thing, but then got distracted and never mentioned it. “I find that offensive” is a pretty bold statement that carries a lot of weight. And I agree that our society throws it around quite easily. Probably because it does cause such a reaction in people’s minds makes it so effective and oft used.

      I’m going to save my being offended-s for the times when I deeply am so that people damn well know I’m serious when I say it. If it gets tossed about too much, then it loses its power and effectiveness for the times when you really need people to hear what you’re saying.

    2. jmkenrick*

      I love this! Yes, it would not offend me (which I said above) but it would make me a little uncomfortable.

    3. Ellie H.*

      The term that drives me crazy is when people say “problematic” to mean “racist.” Just say “racist”!

      1. KellyK*

        You know, I actually like that use of “problematic” in some cases. It can apply generally to multiple “isms,” so it’s quicker than saying “racist and sexist, oh, and also classist and a little bit ableist too.” Plus, people tend to freak out in a big way when something is described as “racist.”

  30. khilde*

    To lighten the mood a bit: I want to speculate on what a workplace would look like if it did indeed cut out things that people object to on moral/religous/philosophical grounds (like what people were talking about with the meat and alcohol earlier).

    So, company functions wouldn’t serve meat. We’d be eating a lot of veggies and grains. But what about the gluten free crowd? (though perhaps that doesn’t fit since it’s not a moral objection). No alcohol. Please tell me that chocolate teapots will still be allowed.

    But truly, I’m curious what other moral/philosophical things would be excluded? I never thought about the meat thing before.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you have ethical vegans there, then no animal products altogether — dairy, eggs, etc. — as well as animal products that you wear, like leather. Let’s see — also, no drinking, smoking, gambling, cursing, or coveting. No having children (population control) but also you must have children (divine direction to procreate). Some sects don’t use zippers, so all pants would be button-fly.

      1. khilde*

        Zippers?!?!? Fascinating. I hadn’t thought of population control either. So very interesting.

      2. Jamie*

        So taken to the extreme this would lead all of us to find workplaces where we were an exact fit with our co-workers, on all issues.

        So much for diversity in the workplace!

        1. Ry*

          Hey! That’s called political fragmentation (tending to surround oneself with more and more strictly like-minded people) and it results in badness! Taken to an extreme, it can cause people to live in an ‘echo chamber’ where they don’t need to interact with people of different viewpoints, and therefore tend to stagnate rather than grow intellectually.

          As you can probably tell, I was just reading a great article about this the other day. Of course, I can’t find it, and I’m not on my home computer where I saved it. Argh.

          Now, the biggest question is: Who would be our shabbos goy??? I mean, if we’re all following all religions’ rules, then who would be the one who has to break the rules in order to turn the lights off on Shabbos night? Maybe we could avoid the issue by quitting work before sundown EVERY day – including midwinter when sundown is at 4pm… That doesn’t sound too bad, actually!

          1. khilde*

            Hey Ry – do you remember on that post that Alison made a while back about the Trader Joe’s cookie butter (or something like that) and you offered to send me a jar b/c your husband works at Trader Joe’s? Was that you? If so, I’m totally ready to take you up on the offer. Do you mind giving your email address to Alison (or I will) and we can go from there? I don’t know why I’m thinking about it today, but I shouldn’t let an opportunity like this slip me by :)

            1. khilde*

              Ry – nevermind on the cookie butter. Someone emailed me and offered to pick some up on their Trader Joe’s run this week, so I’m set. Sorry to clog up this thread with “cookie butter mule” messages.

              1. Jaime*

                no, no, thank you for bringing it up again. I had forgotten that I was going to swing by to get some to try and now I’m reminded. :D

          2. EngineerGirl*

            Actually, I’ve read some stuff on that too. Interestingly, the internet is making some of it worse. It allows for extremes to come up.

            Pre-internet people had to get along with others because there was no one else to get along with. Now days we don’t see the diverse viewpoints because we’re on the internet with people that think like us. BTW, I know it can go in the opposite direction too – that people that are “other” get creamed if the population is too homogenous.

            1. fposte*

              I have to sort this out in my head every time I do a Google search. “Wow, *everybody* is talking about this!” No, dummy, you *looked* for the people talking about this, and that’s why they’re here.

    2. Jamie*

      This is interesting – and lighter!

      If my workplace did a ban on this that some (other) people object to they would be:
      -Any type of ordered in food that isn’t from a certain vegetarian place or a juice shop
      -Employees who could care less about the Sox, Cubs, Bears, or Blackhawks (so I would be fired immediately)

      My own personal ban list would be:
      – Flavored creamers for coffee
      – Employees who cannot name every Van Halen line-up.
      – People who still use the fax machine
      – Any food I have to hear and/or smell.

      1. khilde*

        Along the lines of the vegetarian or juice shop takeout – what about specific types of diets: paleo-diet; raw foods, micro and macro, uncooked or whatever the hell some of those are (said lovingly, of course as I eat my carrot sticks and hummus. No really) :)

          1. Jamie*

            And staplers.

            Seriously, I just broke my 6th stapler in a year. I don’t bang on them, I’m gentle…I fill them correctly. They hate me.

            And I don’t want to work where other employees are passing out properly stapled pages since that makes me feel bad about my deficiencies in this area.

            If anyone knows of an all binder clip company please let me know.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t care if you killed them or they died of natural causes, I’m not eating staplers.

            2. Tax Nerd*

              I’m not good with staplers, either. I insisted on a vertical/stand-up stapler, because it would jam less. (Which it does!) Still, I got lots of eye-rolling for that. Now, I just paper clip most things or email them to people so they can print and staple.

    3. mh_76*

      LIKE for this whole string.
      Included on my own “ban it” list would be microwave popcorn: it can be yummy when made at home in my own microwave where only I have to smell it but in the workplace, it smells worse than feet, feet that were just pulled out of shoes…on a 90 degree day (which also describes the smell of synthetic vanilla used in “beauty” products/lotions”…gag). Please enjoy your micropop at home! Also on my ban-it list: Yankees fans who weren’t born in metro-NYC (I’ll forgive them for they were born into sin)….and, right now, the Red Sox…I mean Red Sux.

      1. KellyK*

        My mother-in-law has a severe allergy to microwave popcorn. I don’t think it’s a common allergy, fortunately, or my whole office would be dropping like flies.

  31. saraht*

    I recently faced a similar situation. My employer, who also happens to be my country’s federal government, opened a mandatory, department wide (>300 attendees) event with a religious ceremony (smudge) and a creationist prayer. These were not conducted by an employee but by a First Nations Elder who had been invited specifically to provide this service.

    There was no advance notice and, given the seating configuration, no opportunity to excuse oneself without causing a noticable disturbance. As a non-theist, I was mildly uncomfortable at my expected participation. As an employee, I am significantly uncomfortable that my employer (and my government) does not realize that this is an inappropriate practice, the ramifications of which require more consideration than was apparently given.

    Comments? Concerns?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the U.S., it would be illegal because it’s a government employer. So I’m assuming you’re not in the U.S. (and therefore might have very different norms?).

      1. Chinook*

        From the description, I wuld guess this would be in Canada working for a department of the Federal government involved in Native Affairs (bu not the department of Northern and Native Affairs because this type of activity would then have not been a surprise). In this case, it was probably done to include those working there in the culture of their clientele. In fact, it would be seen as a way to show respect to those employees to include them in this type of cutlural/religious experience and include them as part of the community.

        1. fposte*

          That was my thought, too, though the alternative was a hipster who’s learned about smudge ceremonies off the internet and couldn’t be restrained.

      2. Jaime*

        Actually, governmental employers in the US can do this if they can prove they are not promoting a particular religion.


        This article mentions one particular county and others that have made national news for opening/closing their public meetings with prayer. One in particular (Greece, NY) it was upheld because it turned out that while they said they were open to prayers from all religions, that the effect was overwhelmingly Christian.

    2. Andrea*

      When I worked for a federal agency—an office in the Bible Belt—managers used to pray at dinners and things all the time. They also played a lot of religious christmas music and sent emails with overt christian signatures at the end. But when I tried pointing out that this was not a good practice and was likely illegal, I was shunned. And I didn’t even tell them that I am an atheist— they just didn’t care who they offended or why, all they knew after I brought it up was that I wasn’t one of them. I was certainly not treated with christian love or kindness, even though I went out of my way to be kind and professional with everyone. This was a job I got right after college, and I’d had professional experience before that, but I would handle that situation so differently now.

  32. Kelly O*

    I work for a relatively small, until recently family-owned company, and it is common practice for our company President to say grace before meals. He keeps it short and sweet, thankfully, but it’s definitely a Christian/Jesus prayer.

    Here’s the thing. I’m a Christian. The act of saying grace doesn’t bother me at all. But we have one employee who is Jewish. Non-practicing by his own admission, but I wonder sometimes how he feels whenever there is prayer before a meal. Or my husband, who isn’t atheist, but doesn’t attend a church or practice any particular religion.

    This is where I disagree with more evangelical Christians. While I understand the importance placed on sharing the gospel with others, I have second thoughts about trying to make a large group of people conform to my personal belief system. As others have mentioned, if I were the only Christian in a group of Satanists, I’d have a hard time listening to a rousing chorus of “I hate you Jesus, you rotten little fink” (points to any Morel Orel fans who get the reference.)

    And I’m not trying to be overly politically correct, or to say that it’s not perfectly okay to say your own personal grace over meals, or even to say grace in a group of people when you’re certain you are all on the same/similar pages.

    I guess the thing that kills me is that we’ll say grace over meals. We’ll make this big deal out of inviting people to events at church. We’ll wear our crosses and put Bible verses on our walls. But when it comes down to treating your employees decently and reasonably, we suddenly forget all the applicable concepts and worry about the bottom line. I’d have less of a problem with grace if it felt like a sincere thing, and not just a show because you think you’re supposed to say it before meals.

    And, for the record, I don’t always say grace. I know I ‘should’ but sometimes I scarf down my Chick-fil-A and hope that buying my chicken sandwich (but not on Sunday) counteracts it a bit.

    1. khilde*


      And I feel so deprived because I don’t live anywhere near a Chick-fil-A (which Jon Acuff talks about all the time). I hope to one day make the journey and experience the wonderfulness.

      1. Jamie*

        They just opened one by us, and I keep meaning to try it. (I’ve heard other Catholics raving about the chicken, so it must be safe for other denominations :))

        I do want to see what all the fuss is about – maybe dinner tonight. Perfect excuse to not eat one of the science experiments my kiddos have been turning out since we started this learning to cook thing.

        1. khilde*

          Let us know the verdict! I was stationed in Utah and had one right down the road, but never took advantage of it like I now realize I should have.

        2. KellyK*

          Ha! Just remember, it will pay off when your kids actually get good at cooking (or at least competent).

        3. Kelly O*

          Seriously – I know it’s not the best thing ever, but I am so addicted to Chick-fil-A.

          And yes, the food comes pre-blessed. And if you can sit close enough to an official Small Group having their meeting there, you get bonus blessings. Throw in a few C.S. Lewis concepts (and I wrote TWO research papers about him, so if you need help, let me know) and you are gold.

          (By the way, I’m glad to see another Acuff fan here too. I have given away more copies of Stuff Christians Like to people who see it and cannot believe its as funny as it is. And I’ve honestly played pew bingo during particularly “fascinating” sermons.)

          1. khilde*

            He is just gifted & side splittingly hilarious. I’m a new believer and so appreciate his lighthearted take on it and being able to poke fun at Christianity because he’s so able shine the light of silliness on the overly-serious aspects. I was hoping you’d get the reference! :)

          2. Andrea*

            We call it Christian Chicken here. I converted to vegetarianism about 6 years ago. I miss that place. Their waffle fries are amazeballs, too, and the employees are usually very polite.

        4. jmkenrick*

          Just to represent California, In n’ Out is a religously influenced company too, and those burger are delicious.

          1. khilde*

            I’ve never been there, either!! You guys have no idea how deprived we are up here in the northern plains states.

          2. Kelly O*

            I have heard lovely stories about In ‘n Out from all sorts of people of religious backgrounds.

            I have to interject this story – my mom loves telling that when I was probably 8 or 9, she can’t remember which, I was talking to an older man at my church who was raised Jewish. He was telling me about not eating pork, and apparently I said “if they can’t have ham, they’re NOT God’s chosen people.”

            From a young age, I have felt very strongly about pork products.

            /end tangent

            1. Jamie*

              This is too funny. I truly believe the only religious conviction I’ve ever gone to the mat over was pork.

              I was about 10 and threw down with my mom about how I couldn’t eat pork because of my deep belief in…how very much I hate ham. I pretended to have a spiritual motive, but she saw the correlation between my new found religious awakening and how deeply I’ve always hated all things pork.

              Except bacon. Once I knew it was a package deal with bacon my religious epiphany ended.

              I’m leaving now to pick up Chik-Fil-A …you guys are such a bad influence. :)

              1. jmkenrick*

                That remind me of how I used to be allergic to the tomatoes in salad, but not in pizza sauce.

                It was a very specific allergy.

                1. Gayle*

                  My mother let me and my siblings each pick one food that we didn’t have to eat. Just one. (And we could only switch food items _after_ a meal.)

                  If we tried to complain about something else, she pulled the “well, you should have picked that as your food.

                  Only later did I realize the brilliance of this.

      2. danr*

        I don’t live near a Chick-fil-A either… but I do live near the cows that are in the commercials. The farm is about 4 miles away.

    2. Scott M*

      My dad (who wasn’t particularly religious) used to joke that “you don’t want to choke on unblessed food”.

      So be careful to eat that Chick-fil-A sandwich a bit more slowly. :)

  33. Suzanne*

    I work at a small vocational college, and there is an invocation and benediction at the graduation ceremony, usually done with a very, very Christian slant. It bothers me (and I am Christian) because we are not a relgiously affiliated college and I think it is very unprofessional. We are having a graduation to celebrate our graduates’ achievements, not to praise the Lord.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Thank you! I just graduated from community college and didn’t like that the ceremony included a prayer and blessing from a rabbi. A very lengthy one I might add. I have nothing against any religion, but I just don’t believe prayer has a place in the school system, unless it’s specifically a religious school.

    2. mh_76*

      Invocation and benediction are part of any “standard fare” graduation ceremony and often do mention God / G-d / etc. I overlook those because they’re just an inane formality that’s on the program of virtually every graduation ceremony (well, maybe not kindergarten grad.). Most ceremonies follow a format that was set sometime in Medieval or pre-Medieval England (I think it was England, anyway) and has almost not changed in hundreds of years. Colleges/Universities, even State schools, are just going through the motions nowadays. The best thing to do during those is ignore them completely as I did when my brother graduated from U[State]. I’m an atheist (but I celebrate Christmas…family, food, etc.) and go to churches for concerts and funerals (and 2 weddings but I was a little kid then).

  34. Ivy*

    There are a lot of responses to this and I won’t pretend I read them all. The ones I read talk about different religious perspectives and being inclusive and all of that stuff. I totally agree with those points. I would like to stress a different point brought up by AAM however, and that’s the point of being a good business. The points about “reputation/morale/retention/recruitment.” As the CEO of your company, he should be worried about all of those things. Forcing people to sit through grace will more than likely negatively impact all those areas. Both with non-Christians and Christians who will more than likely feel uncomfortable. It’s bad business. period. If nothing else matters to the man, that should.

    1. Anonymous*

      This is exactly my take.

      I am a small business owner, and I am deeply religious; however, I do everything I can not to mix the two.

      Unless you are a known, faith-based business catering specifically to your culture, it’s just not a good idea.

  35. The OP*

    To Suzanne- what got me thinking about this in the first place was reading a story about a (public) high school student suing the school district over a prayer at his school’s upcoming graduation ceremony.

    1. Kathryn T.*

      That’s a totally unparallel situation. A public school is a government agency, and in the USA, is constitutionally prohibited from establishing a religious tone to any of its functions.

  36. Just me*

    Funny how my comment about being accepting and open minded to all religions gets interpreted as me being closed minded. Or because I say we should not be offended, I must be a “Christian” and therefore privileged. Whatever my religion or non-religion. I’m just saying there’s a lot of pain and baggage with any religion. Believe it or not, even Christians have been and are persecuted in some countries. Also, the OP said this was at a dinner, not in the workplace.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is that it’s against some people’s religions to be accepting of all religions. That’s why they all just need to stay out of the workplace. It’s not a solution to be “inclusive” and incorporate everyone’s religion (like having a menorah at your holiday party). Because there are non-theists to consider too, as well as people whose religious beliefs mean that they shouldn’t be part of another religion’s observances. Keep it all out of the workplace; problem solved.

      1. Joey*

        That’s really not a realistic solution either. When you police it all out of the workplace then you’re Debbie Downer. Do you really want to tell people no Xmas cards, decorations, etc.? Youre starting to sound like the ultra conservative HR department you so despise.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve written before that I don’t mind secular holiday stuff at work (i.e., trees, cookies, holly), but that religious stuff is totally different (prayer, religious hymns, references to Jesus). And also that tacking on a menorah in an effort to be “inclusive” misses the point.

    2. fposte*

      It was at a work function, though–that makes it the workplace whatever the location.

  37. Anonymous*

    The biggest issue I would have with something like this is being forced to self-identify my religious beliefs. I was raised Catholic and went to church once a week growing up. I do not consider myself an overly religious person (I really only attend church on major holidays now) however, I am a child of Irish immigrants and have spent a significant amount of time in Ireland where religious clashes are still common and religious divides are strong.

    When people find out I’m not just Catholic, but also Irish, I typically end up getting quized on my position on controversial issues connected to the Catholic church as well as my position on conflicts in Ireland. Neither of these are things I wish to discuss with strangers or people that I work with. I also don’t want to get into the “who has suffered more” battle. I have lost family members in acts of religious based violence, but that doesn’t make me any better or any worse then other people who have faced persecution based on their religion.

    This post also reminded me of when I worked in retail. In December I would typically wish customers a “Happy Holidays” or “Happy winter break” or “Happy New Year” rather then “Merry Christmas” because it was my personal choice to avoid making people feel uncomfortable in the culturally diverse area (in which caucasians and christians are a minority) that my store was located in. Often, we would have customers who, most likely because I was white, would say things like “Don’t be afraid to say Merry Christmas, we need to stick together!” or things along those lines. It made me incredibly uncomfortable to have people assume that because I was white I must be a Christian and the fact that I didn’t say “Merry Christmas” must be a part of a giant conspiracy.

    1. Anonymous*

      My response would have been, “Oh, so you’re Wiccan, too? In that case, Merry Yule!” ;)

  38. KMW*

    I work at an office whose CEO, President, Director of Operations, Director of Client Services, and General Counsel are all practicing Reform Jews, so I can’t speak to the whole “Christian” prayer at company events thing, but I can offer kind of a unique perspective.

    We have several Jehova’s Witnesses as part of our staff. Halloween is a big deal at our company (we’re talking departmental costume contests), as are birthdays and holiday parties. For those who know little about JWs, they are not permitted to celebrate ANY holidays, including birthdays, due to their religious beliefs.

    Fortunately, my company’s culture allows them to freely take days off when they feel the company will be celebrating a holiday (they simply don’t participate in birthday celebrations for others, and will take days off on Halloween, etc.) – perhaps in part due to the fact that the bigwigs are a religious minority. But at the same time, they don’t demand that all activity that goes against their beliefs stop (e.g. drinking at the holiday party, which they attend). This is why a prayer at a company event is different than drinking at a company event. A group prayer provides almost no reasonable means of escape – by the time it starts you haven’t been given any sort of opportunity to head for the door. I guarantee you, in a world gone mad where the CEO of my company started a group prayer, the JWs I work with WOULD be pretty pissed. But alcohol at a holiday party is so common that they don’t get upset about that, even though it goes against their beliefs – because it’s something they can actively choose to avoid, and simply say, “I’m not drinking tonight” if they don’t want to explain further.

    1. mh_76*

      I went to public grade school with a JW. She was allowed to bow out of birthday / Christmas (yes, Christmas…it was the 1980’s) / other holiday celebrations and we all understood that that’s what she believed. I don’t recall that anyone made fun of her which, in that school system, was a miracle because they made fun of virtually everything else that could be made fun of.

  39. Vicki*

    What if the CEO started with a short political speech, talking about his favorite political party? Similarly uncomfortable for those who don’t adhere to that view, similarly unacceptable in the workplace.

    What if he started off by making some jokes to “break the ice” and the jokes made members of the audience uncomfortable?

    Prayer is religion. Religion, politics, and several other topics, Do Not Belong in a professional setting. Doesn’t matter which religion. Doesn’t matter which political views.

    1. mh_76*

      I’d get up and leave if he were talking about the “other” party and inwardly cheer if he agreed with me (but maybe mention later that maybe it made a few people uncomfortable)… but what if the workplace -is- a political party / campaign or politically-aligned org.? Just tossing that out there, knowing that the org. in question wasn’t a religious or religiously-aligned org.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s different. Political speech is par for the course in political campaigns or political organizations. And of course, everyone there knows what they signed up for (and most campaigns require a commitment to the campaign’s objectives before they’ll hire you — which is legal).

        1. mh_76*

          Agreed… To take the hypoth. disc. a step further, what if the non-company staff (venue & catering/wait staff, etc) are of the opposite belief (political or religious) and didn’t know what the organition hosting the event stood for until they showed up for their shifts? (I know, I’m overanalytical, especially when bored)

  40. Can*

    I am not from the USA so this takes place in another country. At any rate, I was at an organization which was non-denominational (a school). They had a Christmas day celebration. Complete with a mass before the Christmas party. According to everything I knew the mass was optional and you could just show for the party.

    Well, a couple of Jewish people and myself (non-Christian) decided we wouldn’t attend the mass. Lo and behold we got a big talk about having to attend. When we said we didn’t think attending Catholic mass was appropriate considering this was not our religious affiliation we were told to “think about something else” during mass. The point wasn’t that we couldn’t sit still and try to ignore what was going on, it was that we simply didn’t want to be exposed to the religious ceremony at all!

    When I pointed out that as a non-denominational school, they were actually breaking the law, the lady got majorly angry.

    So no, I don’t have much of a desire to sit in meetings or office functions with prayers, hail Satans or anything of the sort. Even if I could just “think about something else.”

  41. Steve G*

    Not in same boat as OP. Prayers before a meal tend to be so generic in wording, and generic as a concept, that I don’t see what could be offensive. All religions except satanism believe in the same God (unless people believe more than 1 made the universe). I think a person must be quite cynical and downtrodden to find a fault in someone expressing their thanks for people being together and having good food in their own way, which for this person, is a prayer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      All religions don’t believe in the same god (think for instance of Hindus and Buddhists, and only Christians worship Jesus), and some people believe in no god at all. And plenty of graces reference Jesus — I’m not sure if this one did or not.

      There’s no problem with this guy praying before his meal. The problem is that he made it a group, employer-led activity.

    2. Gayle*

      Are you by any chance Christian (or from a Christian background)?

      It tends to be pretty easy to distinguish between Christian prayers and non-Christian prayers. So to say that they’re generic is just not true. If it looks and feels Christian, even if it’s not *technically* violating any aspects of other faiths (which, in fact, it will be), it is Christian in the sense of making other people feel excluded / uncomfortable.

      Moreover, simply *having* a prayer is excluding at least atheists, and probably other religions as well. It’s not that atheists are anti-religion or anti-prayer. It’s that if you go along with the prayer, you can be seen as lying to people or trying to hide that you’re atheist. But if you don’t pray along with the prayer, then you’re seen as “making a stance as an atheist” (and simply being labeled as an atheist can be pretty detrimental). So that’s the discomfort, from an atheist’s perspective. Does that really sound cynical and downtrodden?

      As far as your point that *you* don’t see what could be offensive, I fail to understand how that means that it’s not offensive (even from your standpoint). Surely, you must read this thread and see how many people find it offensive. Thus, even if you don’t understand *why* people find it offensive, you must agree that it is offensive. And, because it’s offensive / makes people uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be done. Make sense?

      No one here is objecting to someone expressing their thanks, even if through prayer. It’s when it’s a company-led, public prayer where it crosses the line into making other people feel uncomfortable.

    3. ThatHRGirl*

      “All religions except satanism believe in the same God (unless people believe more than 1 made the universe).”

      Yes, thank goodness for this, or else there would be all kinds of crazy wars and stuff over religious beliefs! Oh wait….

      1. Vicki*

        When I was much younger, I thought that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all “believed in the same god”. And I couldn’t understand why they argured with each other over it.

        Then I grew up and realized that _they don’t think it’s the same god”. I did, because I was looking at things from the outside in.

        And then, of course, I learned about Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans….

        A given religion may be monotheistic, but the World is Very Polytheistic.

    4. Jamie*

      This discussion took me back to boarding school where for 19 meals a week everyone stood by their tables before sitting and someone would announce, “A moment of silent prayer for those who so desire it.”

      The wording never varied. You could pray, or count ceiling tiles…as long as you were quiet.

      The people who wanted to pray did so silently, as did the ceiling tile counters…I always found that very respectful. After all, students who live at school are an even more captive audience than employees – you can’t opt to not eat for the duration of high school.

    5. Anonymous*

      Pagans believe in different Gods than Christians, as to Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, and Indigenous peoples.

  42. Anonymous*

    Oh friends. I have a good story and definitely need to go anonymous for this one.

    I work for a private company where prayer is a part of daily life. There are religious icons all over the place, there are portraits of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the hallway. Every Christmas the inane image of the city we’re located in is replaced by an insanely bright portrait of the Madonna and child in the manger behind the front desk. We stop short of hanging crucifixes in all of the meeting rooms (though if my CEO were to read this it would give him the idea and I’d say they’d be up within a week). I’ve been in situations where he leads people at a speaking engagement in prayer. Or if we’re eating a meal together he stops everyone and chastises them if they’ve taken a bite before praying. It is fun.

    What’s REALLY fun, though, are the emails. Every major Catholic holiday (and even some Saints feast days) we receive an email from the CEO that explains the “true meaning” of the day. They always start with “I know that our company is comprised of people from many different religions, but….” and the gist is always “your religion isn’t the “true” religion and therefore you need to be educated on what this day means to those who are “truly” religious.” Easter is my favorite though. The 4 page explanation literally says “we don’t blame the current Jewish people on earth for killing the Messiah. It was their ancestors.”

    Now, being a member of the same faith and in a position that works closely with the CEO and therefore understands his idiosyncrasies I find these emails hilarious. But, I cringe every time we receive one knowing that we’re just continuing to open ourselves up to a discrimination lawsuit.

    1. Jamie*

      That is spectacularly horrifying!

      As a Catholic myself, every year I make a play to get April 4th off as a holiday. St. Isadore’s feast day, and he is the patron saint of computer professionals.

      I just want to celebrate this most holy of days by sleeping late then playing Words with Friends while pretending that any minute I’m going to get up and clean something.

      I have a feeling if I worked at your place the boss would have given me the day!

    2. Steve G*

      OMG I’d either die laughing or my blood pressure would go through the roof. I hate being given a different “true meaning” of a holiday every single year (how can there be so many true meanings), especially when they are generic like “that we are all together,” or something inane like that! It’s like some people can’t admit that the “true meaning” of a holiday is the same meaning that has been going around since the holiday started.

      1. Anonymous*

        It’s one of those things where you have to laugh or else you’ll cry at just how insane the situation is. The good news is that I’m a huge hit at parties and get togethers around the major Christian holidays because I can tell stories about how anti-Semitic and offensive the emails are.

        And Jaime, you most definitely could get April 4 off. We’re a tech company so I’m honestly surprised that we don’t already. I might have to work on that. We do get Good Friday off before Easter, I’ve been trying to work on Easter Monday as well. That might be way too many days off right around the same time though. There’d be too many “true meaning” emails going out at once.

      2. Liz*

        I would be unable to resist the production and holiday distribution of pamphlets on the “true meaning” of the things I really care about. “I know that many of you believe anything slapped between graham crackers can be called a s’more, but the truth is that the real s’more includes two squares of Hershey’s chocolate and one toasted marshmallow between four squares of graham cracker. No more. No less. Although some people substitute a peanut butter cup because that is their belief.”

  43. TD*

    I work for a federally funded non-profit preschool agency that operates out of the mid-south, and we have prayers and sermons for everything work related, though usually the only prayers before meals are at our Christmas dinner. We have prayers to begin our meetings and training sessions, to end them, to give thanks for various gifts the Lord has granted us, and just, apparently, for the sake of praying. Several training sessions have been sermons about David and Goliath, Job or some other biblical character. We had a salesperson visit us recently to sell us children’s books for classroom libraries and I couldn’t help but notice (and point out, to no effect) that two pages had references to prayer (“say a prayer of grace before our meal”, and “bless our treat before we eat”). Recently I managed to get a moment alone with my manager as she asked me to order the books, and during this moment I again pointed out the prayers referenced in the text. She contacted the company to tell them we could not purchase the books containing those references, and amazingly, the company agreed to rewrite those pages to eliminate the prayers!

    As an atheist, I always cringe a bit when I see that I am expected to bow my head in prayer or listen to a sermon, but I really hated to see us indoctrinating our little ones so blatantly in our books. My views are so different than those of the majority of my co-workers in almost every respect that I don’t feel I have much influence over anything here, so when I saw that I had an actual impact not just on an office habit, but on a teaching tool for children, I was so happy!

    1. illannoy*

      We had a salesperson visit us recently to sell us children’s books for classroom libraries and I couldn’t help but notice (and point out, to no effect) that two pages had references to prayer (“say a prayer of grace before our meal”, and “bless our treat before we eat”)……………..

      Really? Because government funds are involved, references to an everyday practice for most people — saying grace before a meal — must be censored out? That sort of censorship of speech is precisely what the First Amendment was written to *prevent*.

      But then the larger issue is, federal bureaucrats are not even remotely supposed to be involved in things such as funding “nonprofit preschool agencies.” That is the larger problem.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, actually the First Amendment was not written to prevent someone from objecting to government funding of a particular religious belief.

  44. Anonymous*

    Really? What is it that you are afraid of? Is a prayer going to hurt you? If you aren’t the praying kind, don’t listen! I say go ahead and be offended and leave the company even! Then let me know what the company is and what position you just vacated. With the economy the way it is, you just made my looking for a job that much easier! Thank you!

      1. Anon2*

        Exactly! Just because it’s not offensive to you, doesn’t mean it can’t be legitimately offensive to someone else. Just because it’s a small, relatively benign example doesn’t mean it can’t grow into a bigger issue or indicate a bigger issue already exists. Just because the action itself is not harmful (giving thanks for your meal/life/blessing, afterall, is a happy thing) does not mean it can’t have a harmful effect: making others feel excluded for their own federally protected belief systems; as CEO, not being sensitive to your position of privilege & how you can unintentionally foster an environment where others feel like your company illegally favors only those from your faith, etc.

    1. Gayle*

      What I’m “afraid of” is how people perceive atheists.

      So. As an atheist, I’m not the “praying kind.” So what, exactly, do I do when people are praying as a group?

      If I pray like everyone else, then those who know that I’m atheist will think I’m hiding something or embarrassed about my beliefs. Not to mention it feels pretty darn dishonest, because it is. I’m pretending to believe in God when I do not.

      If I don’t pray though, then I’m perceived by many as making an anti-Christian and pro-atheism statement. And many, many people believe that all atheists hate religion / religious people, lack a sense of morality, etc. The fact that I’m refusing to go along with the prayer will only confirm their beliefs that atheists hate Christianity. So, I think you can understand why I wouldn’t want to “come out” as an atheist, particularly in that context.

      I couldn’t care less if other people pray. Go right ahead. But when people are effectively asking me to pray at a work event, then it demands that I either go along with it (and lie) or not (and face prejudice for being atheist). So you see now what I’m afraid of?

      1. Anonymous*

        Gayle, is it active praying – with prayers said out loud by everyone and crossing themselves, or is it the quieter type, with one person at the most doing the talking while everyone else listens?

        If the quiet type, sit quietly, look at your hands,and think to yourself that it’s very similar to attending a little girl’s tea party with her imaginary friends. If it’s the more active type of prayer, good luck to you, and hope that the economy improves so you can get out and they can lose a good employee over something so inappropriate.

  45. mh_76*

    What I’m “afraid of” is how people perceive atheists.

    So. As an atheist, I’m not the “praying kind.” So what, exactly, do I do when people are praying as a group?

    I’ve found that people are surprisingly understanding if you convey that you respect religion but aren’t religious. There is a perception that atheists (I am one also) are militantly anti-religion but those radicals are the exception and once people realize that the respect is there and that the anti- sentiment is not universal among atheists, they tend to relax a bit. It also helps if you show curiosity about their religion, and religion in general, and that is possible without implying that you want to convert.

    If people are praying in a group in any setting, regardless of whether it’s an appropriate setting for prayer, just bow your head and think whatever thoughts you want to.

    1. Gayle*

      Yes, *most* people are understanding — at least most people who know atheists.

      But there are many people, particularly in the south, who don’t understand that atheists are not anti-religion. And they think that since a Christian’s moral code revolves around God, that atheists must lack a moral code since they lack a belief in God.

      If you explain that you do respect religion, they might be understanding then. Or they might not. More than likely, you won’t get into any of this. They’ll just raise their eyebrows, not ask any questions, and continue to think whatever they think.

      Regardless, I’d like the privacy of being able to tell who I want that I’m atheist, in my own time, and in my own way. Public prayer at work tends to force the issue in a totally inappropriate way.

      1. mh_76*

        Some of those people are lost causes and will never open their closed minds beyond their own narrow worlds. Are you in the South?

        I agree that you should have the option whether/not to tell people. If there is public prayer in your workplace and that makes you uncomfortable, maybe it’s time to start looking. Giant Companies (as in multi-national and nation-wide organizations) are probably less likely to have company-led prayers in the workplace and might be worth looking into for your next job.

        1. Gayle*

          No, but I have family in the south and I’ve heard their comments about atheists.

          This is not about me or my work experience. I’ve never experienced issues at work with my being atheist, and I’ve never seen any prayer or anything religious at work.

          My post was a response to people who think that people “shouldn’t” be bothered by the CEO leading a prayer. I think people have very valid reason to be bothered by this — it’s inappropriate in a work environment, particularly when led by the CEO.

          I have no issues with people praying at work. Just with it being a company-led prayer.

          1. mh_76*

            I do too and…well, I don’t see them very often, maybe once a decade…and last time I saw them, we tried to not discuss politics or religion knowing that we’d just argue…but I know that they think those things about atheists and [opposing political party] and it would be more awkward if I saw them more often.

            Oh OK, same here.
            It is definitely inappropriate, I agree.
            Same here.

        2. Anonymous*

          I’d add to look for a public company too. My incredibly religious is an international corporation with offices on 5 continents. I always wish I could be a fly on the wall when our holiday emails go out to our office in India.

      2. Anonymous*

        “Regardless, I’d like the privacy of being able to tell who I want that I’m atheist, in my own time, and in my own way. Public prayer at work tends to force the issue in a totally inappropriate way.”

        This is the gist of the issue for me. (Replace the word, “Atheist”, with the word, “Wiccan.” If you try to excuse yourself or decline this type of attention, people ask, “Why?” That puts those of us who are members or minority religions (or who are Atheists) in a very, very uncomfortable spot. This is completely inappropriate in a work setting.

        Politics and religion, except in those cases where we are talking about political or religious organizations/companies, should be kept out of the workplace, period.

        ..And for the record, as a Wiccan I AM offended by it. Deeply so! Why? Because I KNOW that if I said, “Hey, Bob, I’d be more than happy to lead the before-meal prayer the next time. Are you OK with invocations to the Old Gods?” I’d be shown the door (though they would find another reason so as to avoid a lawsuit.)

        Don’t believe me? It’s happened to a lot of Pagans who have come out at work. Someone finds out you’re a Pagan and doesn’t like it, and the next thing you know, you’re being written up for–and then fired for–some bogus thing.

        If I were the OP and did not have a relationship with the CEO that would allow this conversation to go well, I would start looking for another job, and if asked why, I’d probably be completely honest about it.

        If I’m at your house and you pray over your meal or invite me to Church or to Mass, I can politely decline. If I’m at work and you do this to me, declining has HUGE ramifications.

        THIS is why the situation presented by the OP is a problem.

  46. Kate*

    My husband and I are physicians and employee about 25 people at our medical practice. Most demographers would classify us as “evangelical Christians.” We host an annual Christmas party on a Saturday evening in December; attendance is optional, and in any given year typically 2-4 employees don’t attend, for whatever reason. And yes, before the meal, we typically have an explicitly Christian prayer/”grace.” My husband often leads, although sometimes he invites an employee or employee’s SO to lead, for variety.

    Our grace lasts about 30 seconds. Really. 30 seconds, once a year. At an optional Christmas party, held off site, where the doors are open and unlocked; employees are free to excuse themselves discreetly to the restroom or the bar when we start to circulate the word “Guys, we’re going to say grace here in about 5 minutes, if you’d like to participate.”

    Does 30 seconds once a year constitute proselytizing and coercion, when there are “easy outs” if one will feel awkward? Really?

    Some might argue “If it’s truly only 30 seconds once a year, then why not just skip it all together?” Because a) it’s an important 30 seconds to us, and b) if it’s really so brief/minor, then keeping it should be as trivial as eliminating it.

    Humorously, our Christmas party generates a lot of — perhaps complaints is the wrong word — “feedback” and “suggestions” about how the party should have been different. Interestingly, our staff (who constitute Christians and non-Christians of multiple flavors) have never complained about the prayer component.

    I suppose some who’ve posted here would feel that some people feel too oppressed or awkward to even comment. Certainly that’s possible. However, consider some of the other “suggestions” we’ve heard over the years:
    * The party is held too far away. (We are in a rural area and typically have the party at a venue in a large city 1-2 hours away.)
    * I can’t afford gas money to drive 3 hours for a Christmas party. The practice should pay my gas money. (We’ve suggested carpooling to these folks; the pushback then is “but then I have to wait for the Smiths to be ready to leave.”)
    * I can’t afford a babysitter to attend a Christmas party, and my family is busy that night. The practice should pay for child care, and/or allow kids to be brought to the Christmas party.
    * The party shouldn’t have an open bar — people should have to pay for their drinks so they won’t drink too much.
    * The party shouldn’t serve alcohol at all. I don’t like seeing my co-workers soused, and I’m worried about them driving home.
    * The party should have better bar setup. That bartender couldn’t make Salty Dogs to save his life.
    * The party should offer more than 3 entrees. I’d rather order off the menu then have to choose between chicken, fish, and pasta. (Or: My husband will only eat hamburgers.)
    * Can we go someplace that doesn’t have a dress code next year? My husband wants to wear a t-shirt.
    * The gift exchange should have a higher limit than $15. You really can’t get anything good at that amount.
    * We shouldn’t have a gift exchange. I already have too many financial obligations at holiday time.

    As you can see, we have many opportunities to offend/frustrate people by having a Christmas party. People find fault with lots of things that rubbed them wrong, but the prayer bit doesn’t even make the Top 10 list.

    And honestly — if it did — given some of the other feedback I’ve received, it would be difficult for me to take it seriously (even though I know I should, as hamburger-eating is not a protected class.)

    Sometimes I’ll respond, “Yeah, maybe we should just skip the Christmas party — we’d save >$5000.” But I’ve noticed that no one seems offended enough to agree. Maybe a free dinner with friends is OK after all, even if there are no hamburgers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It might be that no one is bothered by it. It also might be that some people are, but aren’t comfortable speaking up because speaking up about the boss’s display of religion is different than speaking up about the more minor things you listed above. I don’t know. But I think the point is that you need to decide the prayer is more important to you than the possibility of making some of your employees uncomfortable over something far more important and personal than a dress code. You might decide that it is, and that’s your prerogative as the business owners — but you should make the decision in full knowledge of the possible consequences.

    2. Gayle*

      I’m curious — maybe you could fill us in on something. I understand why it’s important to you to say grace. But why is it important to you that it’s a *company led* prayer?

      And I agree with what AAM said. If someone were uncomfortable (which is highly likely out of 30 people, unless you live in a very religious part of the country), it’s very possible that they wouldn’t speak up about this. After all, which is more likely to offend you — someone saying that the party is too far away or someone saying that your saying grace made them uncomfortable?

      Also, even the fact that you’re calling it a Christmas party is weird. Why not call it a holiday party? I wonder if there’s a lot more subtle little ways you’re saying “Christians Only” and you don’t even realize it.

      And, yes, even a 30 second prayer feels a bit like proselytizing to me. After all, you are making it a *public* thing rather than a private thing. So this isn’t about *your* desire to pray; it’s about a desire to pray *with* your employees. You want them to pray with you. And it’s those who don’t want to be around it who are the ones who have to leave. So, yes, it feels like you pushing Christianity on your employees.

      But, if it’s really important for you to have a company-led prayer, why not have it be *opt-in* instead of opt-out? That is, rather than putting the onus on the non-prayers to leave the room (thereby being perceived as making a “statement” and generally excluding them), why not have those who wish to say grace go to a different room? That will let you have your moment that is apparently important to you while lessening the discomfort for those who do not wish to pray.

      1. Anonymous*

        I work in a city that is incredibly Roman Catholic, we have 1 public high school for every 5 single-sex Catholic high schools. Growing up here I just assumed everyone was Catholic. Getting into the working world here, I know that’s not the case at all. But that doesnt stop the second largest employer in our city from throwing a massive Christmas party including a nationally known performer and starting that night off with a company-led prayer. The former CEO who began the party explained his thinking once:
        It’s not a holiday party. It’s no where close to a holiday party. It is very specifically a Christmas party that he, as the CEO, is hosting because he celebrates Christmas and he is inviting all of his employees to that Christmas party.

        But wouldn’t calling it a Christmas party make it more acceptable to have a prayer? Because of that Christian undertone? It’s more transparent than if they were to be hosting a “holiday party” where they then burst out into a 30 second prayer. – I’m not trying to be contradictory, I’m genuinely curious.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, most people still assume that “office Christmas party” doesn’t mean religious event. I think the point to remember is that while the CEO might see it as an event he’s hosting in his home and he’s inviting his employees, the employees will see it as a work event.

    3. Anonymous*

      Is this party in your home or at a restaurant? It’s hard to tell.

      If it’s in your home, then I think you are free to do whatever you want since people are going into YOUR home.

      If it’s in a restaurant, then, I think you’re more in the territory of what this post is originally about.

    4. KellyK*

      I think what you describe is almost as low-key and non-pressuring as it’s possible to have a workplace prayer be. (A moment of silence for people who want to pray to do so would be completely pressure-free.)

      I do really like the extent you go to to make it voluntary and not catch anyone by surprise with it or pressure anyone into participating.

      But that doesn’t mean that employees of other religions or no religion won’t feel uncomfortable. Even ducking out to the bathroom can feel like making some major statement about religion that people will notice, especially in a group of only 30 people.

    5. Anonymous*

      The difference here is that you are letting people know up front that you will be saying grace, thereby allowing people to bow out. From what the OP posted, it sounds like this prayer came on without a warning of any kind.

      They way you are doing it is reasonable and compassionate. Your guests are not a captive audience, because you don’t make it awkward for people to excuse themselves.

  47. Anonymous*

    Wow what a reaction! First, “separation of church and state” is Not in the Constitution! It never was! It actually came out of a personal letter written by Jefferson, and has been manipulated politically since then.

    Second, considering the possible points of view of the praying manager first, he assumes that everyone in the room is a Christian. Even a Christian would agree that’s arrogant. Second, he is pressuring everyone else to feel the way he feels. That’s never worked out well. Third, he feels that his way brings blessing, and wants that blessing to overflow to everyone in the room, and may be focused positively and trying not to be offensive.

    I have found success in either confronting the issue kindly and with utmost sincerity, (the manager will probably appreciate being asked to talk about it especially if he feels you are sincerely “asking”), by someone who is diplomatic and won’t get sucked into a religious argument. The point is to foster mutual understanding. That is, “Now that I know how you feel, please understand how it makes me feel.” That is, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The discussion isn’t so much to settle theological points of view, but to foster understanding.

  48. Kate*

    A few points of clarification:
    * Attendance at the Christmas party is usually more like 50 people (most folks bring a date.) With so many people milling around from table to table, checking out the hors d’oeuvres, taking pictures, etc. the movement is pretty fluid.
    * We’ve held the party in our home occasionally; usually it’s out of town. Some years it’s been in a banquet room of a hotel, and other years it’s been in the midst of a noisy rowdy restaurant; those years we do a moment of silence rather than pray, because you could hardly hear the person next to you let alone the person at the end of the table.

    I like the ideas of a moment of silence, as well as the idea of framing it as an opt-in rather than an opt-out event.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and I very much appreciate the respectful and thoughtful tone in which they are offered.

  49. Jake*

    Our project of 200 people has an annual Christmas party. It is always opened and closed with a prayer.

    I have an unhealthy sense of rebellion, so I stand up and walk all the way across the room to leave when the prayer is announced.

    There has been no retaliation, in fact I probably get higher raises than I deserve, for whatever reason.

  50. Queen*

    Okay y’all it’s simple. You follow the EEOC. Employers should be very careful what they push on their employees during holidays and be sensitive to employees choice regarding prayer. My bosses expected me to collect money from staff and purchase spendy gifts for them (bosses). Then they expected me to collect money from supervisors and purchase another set of spendy gifts for them. Then they expected me to purchase 10 (yes ten) gifts and take them to a meeting and swap gifts with the supervisors from me to them. Then there was secret santa and food to be brought by staff to these parties. Once my boss expected me to go shopping with my vacation time and my personal time I complained and found out that it was not in my job description to do any of it. So I said I don’t want anything to do with any type of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in any meetings whatsoever. I requested to not attend the 10 gift meetings. The bosses lied to administration telling them there was no gifts or food during the meeting so I was told by admin I had to attend. When I got there the food was out and the gifts were there. I had requested no food and no visible gifts and they did not respect my wishes and made it very uncomfortable for me and the staff at the meeting were not happy that there partying was put on hold. No religious accommodation for me so I complained and then they retaliated against me. This is why you need to take it seriously. Christmas is in my home and in my church, it is not at every frickin meeting I attend at work the month of December. Respect other peoples beliefs just like you respect their interests and the like. Jesus is with me daily but I am not going to be directed when to acknowledge my Lord and Savior at work.

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