what to do when a work event includes prayer

A reader writes:

What do you think about prayers or 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 about not including this particular component of the dinner next year.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 322 comments… read them below }

  1. Cordelia Naismith*

    At my first teaching job, the principal used to say prayers at faculty meetings sometimes. This was a public school! (State school, for non-US folks.) I’m Christian, and that made me uncomfortable. It just wasn’t the time or place for it.

    1. Adam*

      I feel the same. I’m a Christian who very much believes in prayer, but if I didn’t work for an explicitly Christian organization and the higher ups wanted to begin our next work event with prayer I would feel REALLY uncomfortable. That’s just not how you do it.

      1. Koko*

        You know, I just realized that I have completely different feelings about a prayer at the start of an event vs saying grace over a meal. The former feels way more uncomfortable to me. I guess maybe the reason the latter doesn’t get my hackles up is because I grew up in a place where grace was said over every meal in that way where it’s just words? Like when little kids learn the alphabet and there’s a bit in the middle that goes “elemeno p” because they’ve memorized the sounds rather than the letters they stand for. Blessings barely register as prayer to me, it’s just a magical incantation that some religions chant before eating.

        1. kristinyc*

          SAME! I grew up in a family where every meal began with “blessusuhlord, anthesethygifts…” :)

          Now I’m not a practicing Catholic, but my family is, so when I’m home for the holidays, I still say the prayers with them and go to mass. It’s really not a big deal to me.

          At work though – I work for a nonprofit that isn’t religious, but has a very religious CEO and some religious roots. I haven’t experienced prayer at work, but we also haven’t had any org wide meals since I’ve been here. I wouldn’t be shocked if prayer happened, and I’d sit through it, but I find it inappropriate.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Raised Catholic here too…my dad would always say that grace, and when we got older, we got to sometimes do it. Every once in a while, we’d mix it up by chanting:

            Bless us oh LORD and these thy GIFTS
            Which WE are a-BOUT to re-CEIVE….
            FROM thy BOUN-ty, through CHRIST, our LORD,
            Amen, amen, amen!

            We’d get the dirtiest look from my mum, LOL. Dad would laugh but try to hide it. :)

            That said, I do feel uncomfortable with prayers at non-denominational events. I feel less so with moments of silence, because even though the implication is that you’re supposed to be praying, you might be doing it your own way, or not at all. Or just thinking “I hope whatever is supposed to happen here happens safely, etc; if not, I know CPR.”

          2. Anxa*



            My immediate family wasn’t religious, but the extended family was Catholic. I can’t say grace without smushing all the words together. English was my grandma’s second language.

        2. Adam*

          I totally see that perspective. I think it’s the same for a lot of people. For me I think I’d be uncomfortable either way since as I’ve grown older and taken my religion/spirituality as a more central part of my life if I’m being mindful of it I try to keep prayer from “becoming routine” as that defeats the point of it to an extent.

        3. BRR*

          As a non-christian that’s really interesting to me.

          And as the holiday season approaches and the letters come in it reminds me of what one commenter said last year about how when you grow up in a different environment (Jewish here and now agnostic), it’s really obvious. That there’s no difference between grace and praying. But now that you point it out there are Jewish traditions that feel routine to me and not spiritual.

        4. BethRA*

          I used to feel the same way, but then I realized that if felt like “no bid deal” to me because it IS what we grew up with, and just part of the background noise. For someone from a different faith tradition, it’s a lot more noticeable.

        5. Kelly L.*

          My ex had a word example just like elemeno! Their grace had “to us be blessed” in it, and he spent years wondering what a twusby was.

    2. anonanonanon*

      This is why I’m not a fan of saying, “One Nation under God” in the pledge at public schools. (But I also always felt uncomfortable saying the Pledge of Allegiance anyway, so I might be biased.)

      1. Allison*

        no I hated that part too, and would sometimes refrain from saying that part. sometimes I didn’t say it at all, depending on how rebellious I was feeling. remember, that part was put in during the 1950’s to show we weren’t “godless commies,” so it’s a bit outdated.

      2. Mabel*

        I don’t say “one nation, under God” when saying the pledge of allegiance because (1) separation of church and state is really important to me and (2) it was ADDED to the pledge not so long ago (in the ’50s, I’m pretty sure), so it clearly does not NEED to be there.

        1. Mabel*

          The more I read AAM comments, the more I realize that I’m not as outside the norm as I thought. LOTS of people think the way I do (about a lot of things). Yay!

          1. Mander*

            I don’t like it either, and for very similar reasons. I also don’t like having “in God we trust” on the money. We’re a secular country, dang it, albeit one with a strong Christian tradition.

            This reminds me of a thing that happened today — I happened to be at a major train station a few minutes before a short service + moment of silence for Armistice Day, and since I had time to kill I took part. It was nice to have the whole station listening and then silent (except that inevitable one little kid who starts crying) for two minutes. But I was annoyed that the whole service was overtly Christian, although they did redeem themselves a little bit by mentioning refugees in the prayers.

            Muslims and Sikhs and Jews etc. fought for Britain, too. I don’t belong to any of those groups but I think it’s important to include them in public services like that.

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              I think it depends on the location. If memory serves, the heads of the various religions in Britain attend the service at the Cenotaph and the veterans associations march past also includes different religions.

              1. Mander*

                True. It just irked me a bit that an event being held in a train station, where there is a very diverse group of people moving in and out, was purely Christian.

        1. Aunt Jamesina*

          It always amazes me that Americans don’t see how crazy and drone-like the pledge looks to non-Americans. The only other countries with similar practices aren’t exactly known for their freedoms! I’ve spent my entire career in public schools and do not say the pledge (I stand quietly). Virtually nobody notices, and colleagues that have asked about it have been very understanding.

          1. AW*

            I only recently found out that saying the pledge isn’t a thing in other countries. An Australian woman was saying how she thought the pledge was an old-timey thing we used to do and I was all, “Wait, you *don’t* do that?”

            1. Mander*

              Is it common in schools in the US again now? We said it when I was in elementary school in the early 80s, but only up until second grade. After we moved to another state I never said it in school again.

                1. OriginalEmma*

                  We had to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance (which invariably meant standing for Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” because that preceded the pledge). If I never hear that song again, it’ll be too soon.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I’m about your age. We said it every day in grade school, I can’t remember what we did in junior high, and when I was in high school in the early to mid nineties, they said it over the PA system every morning. We all stood up and were theoretically supposed to be saying it along with the PA, but nobody did and nobody enforced it.

                I hear from parents my age that kids still say it now too. (And from urban legends, I hear that nobody does, and that they’re all reciting an oath to Cthulhu now instead, but that’s urban legends for ya.)

                1. Carpe Librarium*

                  “I comma square bracket recruit’s name square bracket comma do solemnly swear by square bracket recruit’s deity of choice square bracket to uphold the Laws and Ordinances of the city of Ankh-Morpork comma serve the public trust comma and defend the subjects of His stroke Her bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket Majesty bracket name of reigning monarch bracket without fear comma favour comma or thought of personal safety semi-colon to pursue evildoers and protect the innocent comma laying down my life if necessary in the cause of said duty comma so help me bracket aforesaid deity bracket full stop Gods Save the King stroke Queen bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket full stop.”

              2. InfoGeek*

                Public school kids here (and students in many private school) say it every day.

                A car dealership sponsors a “commercial” every morning during the news that is just a different elementary school class saying the pledge.

                1. Hiring Mgr*

                  I live in literally one of the most liberal cities in the US (Somerville MA), and our kids say the pledge in public school every day…It’s just a rote thing..

                2. Just Me*

                  Either this is more widespread than I thought, or you and I live in the same town.

                  My kid came home one day with a permission slip for it, and I ripped that thing up and explained why to my kid.

              3. ZuKeeper*

                I recently went to an awards ceremony for my high school sophomore daughter. They had us all stand and recite the Pledge. And I get sent an email every day with the school’s morning announcements. Every last one starts with the Pledge. I find it very crazy and drone-like. And don’t get me started on religion in public schools….

              4. neverjaunty*

                Yes. We had to have a Little Chat with one of our kids’ school principals about how in fact “school policy” requiring students to stand for the Pledge is unconstitutional. In the twenty-first century. And I live in one of the bluest areas of the country.

              5. Aunt Jamesina*

                Illinois does it, along with a mandated “moment of silence” (which… what a waste! It’s literally a moment in every school I’ve worked in, though). I believe the pledge was briefly made non-mandatory for a couple of years in the mid 2000s, but is now required along with the moment of silence, which was instituted around that time as well.

                1. Honeybee*

                  It’s against the law to require kids in school to say the pledge, so hopefully they’re not punishing anyone for it.

                2. Aunt Jamesina*

                  Oh no, Honeybee, nobody is punished for not saying it, but some teachers do “encourage” the kids a bit too much for my comfort. The state simply mandates that the moment of silence and pledge be done as a part of the school day.

              6. NoTurnover*

                I work at a small, very unusual private school that’s “registered” but not “recognized” by our state. We recently looked into what it would take to become recognized, and found that one of the first requirements was that students must say the Pledge every morning and be “INSTRUCTED IN PATRIOTISM.” NOPE–backed away from that idea so fast.

          2. Collarbone High*

            I grew up Southern Baptist (am no longer anything). The other day a friend and I were driving past a church and he asked if I knew why they had a huge white flag with a cross in the corner. I told him it’s the Christian flag and that it has its own pledge of allegiance, and that we used to start Sunday school reciting pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible. His jaw dropped, and I thought for the first time how weird it was that our church would a) drive a bus around town scooping up kids who were out playing on a Sunday morning and taking them to church, and b) forcing them to pledge allegiance to these religious objects.

            1. Cordelia Naismith*

              I went to a Catholic elementary school. We added the phrase “for the born and the unborn” to the end of the pledge of allegiance, which we recited at the beginning of every school day. I genuinely did not realize that wasn’t actually part of the pledge until I started high school. (I went to a public high school because there wasn’t a Catholic one in the town where I grew up.)

              The moment when I realized that…kind of blew my mind.

      3. SouthernBelle*

        I stopped saying the pledge in elementary school. I remember having a conversation with a classmate after we learned about some event in social studies that clashed with my elementary sensibilities and coming to the conclusion that we couldn’t be forced pledge our allegiance to an object, so that was the hill I chose to die on. So me, my classmate and my best friend (but hers was more about her religious practices) did not say the pledge from then forward. We would stand, but not recite.

        All of that to say, I don’t have a problem with prayers and/or grace in a professional setting. I’m of the belief that if you don’t personally share the prayer’s ideals, you simply remain quiet and respect the intent.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I did it through high school (though we stopped doing it in class at the end of fifth grade or thereabouts), but we still said it at assembly, etc. I don’t do it anymore at events of any kind. It just feels weird now.

          1. Nother Name*

            I don’t think I’ve encountered the pledge in any format since I left grade school in the early 80s… But now I’d be tempted to do the Calvin and Hobbes version.

            Everyone I knew in school said “invisible” instead of “indivisible.”

            1. Kelly L.*

              I thought it was “indervisible” for a long time. I’d probably been saying it for three years before I saw it in print anywhere.

        2. manybellsdown*

          I stopped in elementary school as well, when I figured out what all the words meant. I didn’t like the idea of making a pledge or promise that they don’t really explain the meaning of. No one’s ever seemed to notice that I stand silently instead of saying it.

        3. Honeybee*

          I inadvertently convinced about 3/4 of my first period history class not to say the pledge, lol. I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness but I also had philosophical objections of my own to the flag pledge. One day one of classmates asked me why, and I explained to her, and she considered I thoughtfully and decided not to say it anymore either. Well, someone else asked *her*, and she asked me to re-explain, and that person *also* decided not to say it anymore. And so on until most of my home room class wasn’t saying the pledge. My ultra liberal hippie communist history teacher was very amused.

          1. madge*

            Ha, I love that story! I grew up JW, too, and had to stand in the hall every morning during the pledge (I graduated in the early 90s), until the principal happened by one day. He walked me back into the room and gave my teacher a major lecture in front of the entire 5th-grade class.

            I’m not religious now, but I still cringe when I’m in my son’s classroom during the pledge (not because of my upbringing but because I find it indoctrinating). We live in a very liberal, very diverse college town and I can’t understand why public schools are still reciting it.

      4. JamieG*

        Yeah, I started opting out of “under God” sometime in… middle/high school, I think. Same for when I was a girl scout leader in college – anytime the pledge or I think the girl scout oath (I was never a girl scout, and my memory is not that good) mentioned religion, I just shut my mouth.

        1. anonanonanon*

          I actually had way more of a problem with Girl Scouts than opting out of the pledge in middle and high school. No one really cared in middle school or high school, but at that point no one really said it or paid attention. It was pretty much used as the time to finish up last minute homework or the warning to get to your first class if you didn’t want to be marked tardy.

          But as far as Girl Scouts, I don’t know if it was my troop in particular, but a lot of meetings and events were held in or at churches and that in itself made me really uncomfortable.

          1. BananaPants*

            Our older daughter’s Daisy troop meets at a Methodist church. It doesn’t bother us at all, but we’re from another mainline Protestant denomination to begin with, and the church people have zero involvement with the troop aside from providing the meeting space. They meet in the Sunday School rooms and it did occur to me last week that the religious posters/art on the walls might make it less-comfortable for non-Christians.

            1. anonanonanon*

              Yeah. I don’t have a problem with religion in general, but being in a very religious space when I don’t belong to that religion is unsettling and sometimes I feel unwelcome. I believe we always met in a church because it was free or very cheap to rent, but it made me really uncomfortable to sit in a room surrounded by religious posters. I had a friend in the same troop who was Jewish and we always booked it out of meetings so quickly because we felt very awkward in the church.

              I was so relieved when we finally moved meetings to a backroom at the public library and then to the community center. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing how less stressed out I was simply by that.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                When a Jewish friend invited me to a Christmas concert, in a church, I immediately noticed that she knew all the words to the Christian songs. I would not be able to participate to that degree in an event for her faith. That was unsettling for me. Expanding on that, I started thinking about how much we as a nation take for granted our dominate culture/faith/mores. We just do not notice or even think about what others might be thinking/feeling. We take it for granted and skate by it.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Maybe she just liked the music. A lot of classical pieces are religious (Handel’s Messiah, for example), but people listen because they like the way it sounds. It’s fun if you can sing along.

                2. oldfashionedlovesong*

                  This is a really thoughtful comment. I’m a first-generation immigrant and a Buddhist, and I probably have the same firm grasp on Christian culture as your Jewish friend. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve begun to question why that is — ironically, just as the “war on Christianity” nonsense started ramping up in the US. There are a lot of devout Christians at my current job, which would be fine, obviously, except that it spills out into the workplace with impunity. I am dreading the November/December holiday season this year, as last year I was expected to join hands and pray during the division holiday party and received a good deal of side-eye (and was casually reported to my manager for “attitude”) for politely declining to participate in setting up Christmas trees and other decorations. So, I really appreciate folks like you who engage in this kind of introspection :)

              2. Anxa*

                I had quite a few secular events at one of the town churches, but I grew up in a small, small town.

                Nowadays, I hate that one of our voting centers is in a church that makes me very uncomfortable. I’m not from a region with a lot of evangicalism and and megachurches, so it doesn’t feel at all like a community center to me (also, this city has hundreds of churches)

                1. Honeybee*

                  It always bothered me that most of my voting precincts no matter where I lived in Georgia were in churches. I just feel like that’s a very inappropriate place for voting. My precinct in PA was a church too. (My precinct in NY was a school, and apparently WA does all mail in voting now).

            2. Fifi Ocrburg*

              How interesting that non Christians tour the Vatican and non believers go to Ankor Wat. Not every location has to be stripped bare.

          2. Chinook*

            “But as far as Girl Scouts, I don’t know if it was my troop in particular, but a lot of meetings and events were held in or at churches and that in itself made me really uncomfortable”

            That would be because it is really hard to find cheap space to rent that will hold a large group. School’s often tie up their gyms with after school sports. Public theatres aren’t good for running around in. Most religious places have some type of non-worship space that is not used that fen (think parish hall or church basement.) Renting it out is being a good neighbour and bringing in extra cash. Heck, we have even been known to rent out our chapel (our Catholic tabernacle is housed in a different spot, so this chapel was more “Christian neutral” with only a Mary statue and a crucifix which were easily moved) to another Christian group who lacked a worship space.

            1. blackcat*

              Growing up in a (not small) town, the place that had the biggest (and widest array of) rooms that the public could rent for random events was Jewish community center. I went to all sorts of stuff there as a kid, including summer camps and girl scout activities, for many years before I realized that “the JCC” referred to the Jewish Community Center. I’m not at all Jewish and neither were many (if not most) of the other kids who did activities there. It was more like a religious group had decided to fill a need. The JCC had a pool, gym, playground, and ~15 meeting rooms of various sizes, and nearly everything could be rented for a very low cost (I once rented a room for a function. I think it was $70 +$200 refundable cleaning deposit for 4 hours of a room that could easily fit 50 people around tables).

              That said, I do not remember many of the rooms having anything overtly religious on the walls. I actually remember a few were boringly devoid of all decoration.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              We have a place here that belongs to a particular denomination. They rent out their facilities and people are starting to get upset. They rent the space out to secular groups, never collect tax, never pay tax annnnd they are cutting into business that for-profits could have benefited from. (Yes, they are doing a LOT of business and their facilities are quite large, including overnight accommodations) Lately, local governmental departments having been holding meetings there. People are getting more upset.

              It’s interesting to see this shift, as it used to be churches would provide space in from the elements for many groups to meet. We seem to be moving away from that.

            3. anonanonanon*

              I understand why meetings were held there, but it still made me and some other non-Christian members uncomfortable, especially since the time period when we had meetings in a church was when we had like half a dozen members and we were in late middle school.

              The meeting spaces were usually a hall or basement, but I still remember that sense of uneasiness of knowing you’re somewhere you don’t belong. It just….I’ve always thought of religious buildings as places for worship or religious events like marriages and funerals, so having a non-religious meeting in a religious space always made me uncomfortable. A lot of people, myself included, don’t often feel welcome in those spaces if they don’t belong to the religion.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, “To serve God and my country” is in there. The degree of emphasis varies a lot by troop, though. Mine was super not religious and we met in the school cafeteria.

          1. Lefty*

            Agree with the emphasis part here… when we recited it as Girl Scouts there were many who pledged to serve “myyyyyyyyy country” and we never had a problem. We also met in the school cafeteria, FWIW.

      5. Artemesia*

        I learned the pledge in school without the ‘under God’ because it was inserted in the mid 50s the last time — well enough of that — here we are again. People my age say “One nation, pause, under God” Those who learned it after the change say “One nation under God” without the pause. I am always offended by it and all the attempts to force religion on people.

        1. Kelly L.*

          We learned it with under God, and we did the pause. I wonder if it’s because we learned it from the generation who witnessed the change. It scanned kind of like this:

          I pledge allegiance.
          To the flag.
          Of the United States of America.
          And to the republic.
          For which it stands.
          One nation.
          Under God.
          With liberty and justice for all.

          (And I knew a few more religious kids who would say Amen at the end of it.)

    3. CoffeeBeanCounter*

      I work in a school district. There is an annual conference for school district employees. At the kick off meeting the presenters stood up and said a prayer with everyone in the room. While I was not offended I was still shocked. I thought it was a no-no for religion to be anyway involved with public schooling.

  2. Jamie*

    Interesting timing with the whole Starbucks/War on Christmas nonsense.

    I believe my own office does a quick prayer before our annual Thanksgiving brunch but my office is only about 75 people and largely white, male, and religious (financial industry). I’m agnostic so I generally just keep quiet and wait it out. I wouldn’t pray but I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who wants to do that.

    However, I wonder how many people would start shouting “Religious persecution! War on Jesus!” if challenged on this in a diverse office.

    1. KathyGeiss*

      To me its a bit more egregious since your workplace is so homogenous. If you were one of the few who aren’t white, straight, middle aged and male, the praying thing is yet another brick in the wall of You’re Different From Everyone.

      This happens a lot in my industry (also a place dominated by white, straight, middle-aged Christian men) and I find it frustrating and disrespectful (even though I totally recognize that those doing it don’t intend disrespect, in fact they probably intend the opposite, but I can’t change how it makes me feel).

    2. BRR*

      Restating from above, when you aren’t from part of the culture it’s very prominent how things stick out. Do people feel the red and green cups don’t scream Christmas? Also I don’t see the big deal of saying happy holidays. As far as I know Christmas is a holiday. And with the war on Christmas, it seems to have already conquered Thanksgiving and is making advances on Halloween :).

      1. Nother Name*

        I agree!

        Personally, I think the real war on Christmas (and Thanksgiving – even more so!) is being waged by those companies that feel they need to stay open on holidays and keep their employees from being able to spend time with their families and loved ones, which is the real point of a holiday, last time I checked. (And I understand that there are many people who don’t celebrate Christmas, but it’s still something that many, many people do observe in the US.)

        1. Mander*


          Especially Thanksgiving. I refuse to participate in any Thanksgiving shopping or Black Friday insanity these days. Back in the stone ages stores would open early (like at 6) on Black Friday and they’d hand out little treats or favors, like free coffee or little ornaments. It was fun then. These days it’s just an out and out greed fest and I won’t have anything to do with it, especially since they’ve tried to export it to the UK. Which makes absolutely no sense!

          1. Kelly L.*

            I’m napping on the couch. Forget Thursday shopping!

            (Amusingly, stores started not making as much money on the Thursday openings, and now more and more of them are retreating back to Friday this year and spinning it as a family-friendly thing.)

            1. MashaKasha*

              I participate very actively in Black Friday from the privacy of my couch and my laptop. Works every year!

          2. ZuKeeper*

            I used to work for a Jewish retailer that was more than happy to take people’s money while they shopped for Christmas gifts on Black Friday. We weren’t allowed to decorate with anything obviously Christmas-y, but we always had hot apple cider and cookies and it was fun.

            When they closed all of their retail stores I went to work for a big box office supply store. They didn’t give a fanny about Christmas other than the money we put in the til. But I always decorated the crap out of my section and people enjoyed it. Sadly, working the Christmas season in retail has pretty much turned me into a Scrooge. It’s so commercial now, and people can be so nasty during the holidays.

            Oh and the big company that pushed Black Friday in the UK is Asda. Asda is owned by Walmart. Enough said.

            1. Mander*

              Yeah, I know it’s ultimately Wal-Mart’s fault, but it still annoys me that British companies jumped on the bandwagon so quickly without saying “Uh, this is the UK, why are we having a post-Thanksgiving Day sale?”.

              1. UK Nerd*

                My old job tried to make a big deal of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We were all like, ‘Black Friday? But we’re British! We don’t have Thanksgiving. And what the hell is Cyber Monday?’ We put it down to our parent company being American and utterly clueless about the European business that it had bought.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                That was my exact thought when I saw it. Right after, “WTF?!”

                You all need to kick more American stuff to the curb (kerb). I don’t want to go to Britain and have it be like here. And bring back the old two-tone sirens! London doesn’t sound like London anymore! :'(

          3. Prickly Pear*

            My mom and I used to have plans of attack for Black Friday just to score some of the sweet swag. We still laugh at the year we left KMart for last because they were giving away craptastic fanny packs and surprise, when we got there they still had shopping carts full of the things. We still like to go to the mall that day, but not for actual shopping, more an excuse to people watch and walk off the previous day’s excess.

        2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

          This this this so much! The only War on Christmas I’ll recognize! (I feel it even as a Christmas-celebrating atheist and it really breaks my heart to see the way companies have taken it in the most recent years)

    3. Kate M*

      Yeah, it almost seems to me that the more diverse your office/community is, the more people might be threatened by it. There are studies that show that there is a tipping point in communities – when minorities reach a certain percentage, overt racism by the majority (usually white people) goes up. I think that might be the same in an office – if 95% of people are Christian, they might be more willing to be inclusive to the one or two people who are other religions/non-religious. But once that number goes up, and maybe your company stops prayers or makes other considerations for people who aren’t Christian, then I think that’s when people start claiming “religious persecution.” Just a theory, though.

      Also, it’s kind of funny – I get that the “war on Christmas” mentality is a thing, and people get super upset over not being explicitly catered to as Christians. However, the whole Starbucks cup outrage seems not really a part of that to me. It’s like, one preacher got mad, mad a few other people hashtag something, and that’s it. Every post I’ve seen from everyone from my liberal friends to my parents’ really conservative Christian friends (who usually feed into the “war on Christmas” shtick) have been saying how stupid it is. It’s like the outrage this time was over a faux controversy that nobody really supported in the first place. It was a race on FB to prove how “sane” you were and how much you didn’t care about Starbucks cups. Anyway, end sidenote.

      1. ElCee*

        I’ve thought the same thing about the Sbux cup. The only thing more tedious than real outrage over something so silly is fake outrage. I’m just over outrage in general!

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I’m jealous of you both. There is very real outrage over the Starbucks cup on my Facebook feed from multiple sources.

          1. Kate M*

            Oh man. It’s scary to think that there are people more unhinged than some of the ones I have on FB.

          2. MashaKasha*

            I’m so proud of my FB friends right now. Not one complaint about the stupid cup in my feed. And I have some believers, a few people that I met through church many years ago, and a pastor on my friend list.

        2. Artemesia*

          The whole ‘War on Christmas’ thing is fake outrage over a fake oppression. It is idiotic regardless of one’s religious faith to say ‘Merry Christmas” in mid November or even early December. Dec 23 or 24, sure — but to make Christmas a 3 month ordeal for everyone is kinda ridiculous. And songs like Happy Holidays were traditional American songs for almost the past 100 years. This fake outrage over nothing is a calculated political movement designed to divide people. It is totally made up and pushed by Faux news for their own political ends.

          No one was upset that Starbucks had red Christmas cups. Someone decided to pick around and make up something to have a hissy about because it helps keep people amped up and not paying attention to their actual political interests.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Oh yeah, I has a customer at OldOldOldJob once get shirty with me when I said “have a good day” instead of “Merry Christmas” in really early December. We weren’t really a gift destination, either, so it wasn’t like I was being bombarded with decor, and basically I just wasn’t even thinking about Christmas yet.

          2. Kate M*

            Oh, I totally agree it’s a fake oppression. It just seems that usually, it’s an issue (like a nativity in front of a government building, or saying “Merry Christmas”, or some other asinine thing) that conservative Christians are on one side of, and everyone else is on the other side. But this time there didn’t really seem to be two sides – even conservative Christians didn’t really buy into this one. (Although some people might have been seeing different things on their newsfeed, like Gandalf says above).

            1. Kelly L.*

              At this point, satire sites and viral memes have managed to create real outrage by reporting on fake outrage. I remember when the one satire site made up a story about Denali meaning “black power” and how some imaginary conservatives were mad about it, and it got passed around without context enough that some people really bought it and got mad for real.

              I’m not kids these daysing–these are people my age. FACT CHECK, PEOPLE!

          3. neverjaunty*

            It’s fake oppression, but let’s not forget that it started off as – and for many people still is – an anti-Semitic dogwhistle. (Hint: what other group has a holiday right around then and is not into celebrating Jesus’ birthday?)

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              Atheists! We have the original holiday from right around then (Winter Solstice). Everyone else was too lazy to come up with their own, so they just copied from our paper. ;-)

              1. WildLandLover*

                So totally agree, Pennalynn!

                Not to get into a theological debate with anyone, but the lights on the trees, the greenery, bonfires, the celebrations and gluttony all date back to pagan ceremonies intended to bring back the sunlight and hasten the end of the darkest month of the year. I think the original Christian church took on the trappings of Winter Solstice to make it easier to sell their views to the pagan hordes.

                I, too, am an atheist who celebrates Christmas because I enjoy the beautiful lights and decorations; the gift-giving, family time, and food we have only at that time of year. I also enjoy much of the Christmas music, including the religious-themed music because it is so beautiful it lifts my spirits.

                However, all that said, I make sure my grandkids know where the holiday really originated and that the real intent of the holiday is humankind’s marking the passage of Winter Solstice and the end of the darkest days.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        When I was a kid, Christmas was special. In part, because it was such a short time of year. The ads did not start until after Thanksgiving. You really got to enjoy TG day. Then you started the Christmas stuff.

        It was special and it had warmth to it.

        Now, we get to watch people stampeding over other people to buy a $300 tv for 30 bucks or some such.

        We’ve (society has) lost something and it’s has nothing to do with the holiday. We have lost a part of ourselves.

  3. Artemesia*

    I worked in the US south for 35 years and so this was a commonplace thing which always made me uncomfortable. There is NO way an employee can not go along at least passively without the potential for subtle retaliation. It is particularly unprofessional in this setting with outside guests who are not employees. But its ‘non-denominational’ you know, in Jesus name.

    1. INTP*

      I grew up in the South and yeah, it’s complicated in a way that’s hard to understand if you haven’t had the experience of being a religious minority in the South. Religiousness and churchgoing-ness are part of the whole value system and part of how people decide how “good,” trustworthy, ethical, etc a person is. Even people who understand and agree with the fact that they are not supposed to formally discriminate based on religions are likely to have it factor into their judgments and feelings about people. The only way to really protect the religious minorities would be to avoid any display of religion so people don’t figure out who is what, but that would be met with outcries of religious persecution and people fancying themselves martyrs when they get fired.

      (I know this is not every person or every company in the South. I’m just basing this on my experience growing up and also returning and visiting my adult relatives and their friends in a large-ish deep south city.)

      1. Lily in NYC*

        It was so interesting to see this when my parents moved to NC – the first question they were asked by most people they met was “what church did you join”. For my atheist, native NYer parents, it was a huge culture shock and they ended up moving away after two years (they also hated how segregated everything felt).

        1. Doodle*

          The same thing happened to me when I moved to the south.

          And, in another weirdness, a number of my students decided that I was Jewish (I’m not). When I asked why (I have a traditionally Catholic last name and a typically Christian first name — not Mary, but close), they said, “Well, you never talk about going to church, so we figured you must be Jewish.” Agnostic/atheist/non-practicing hadn’t even occurred to them.

          1. katamia*

            LOL, I had sort of the opposite experience when I moved to the Midwest from a very diverse part of the East Coast. When I said I didn’t go to any church, all my friends there just assumed I was an atheist (I’m not, but I’m very pro-separation of religious organization and state and don’t wear jewelry or conform to dietary restrictions or anything that I guess could have clued them in), and I didn’t realize they thought I was an atheist for probably two years until one of them actually said something. Different cultural assumptions can get weird.

          2. blackcat*

            To be fair, kids often make assumptions/draw conclusions that adults wouldn’t.

            When I did my student teaching, I had relatively short hair and wore slacks every day (science teaching = no skirts). Because of these two things, all of my students thought I was a lesbian. I found this fascinating, as did several faculty members who brought rumors to my attention. I did nothing to address it (because it shouldn’t matter if I’m a lesbian), but it was clear the adults in the community made no such assumptions.

            While it does say something about that community’s lack of diversity, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole area on the judgements of the kids.

        2. Artemesia*

          I remember when we first moved to the south people would say things like ‘we’ll you’ll feel at home when you get churched.’ I’d never heard this verb before.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            To me “churched” is connected to the service of Thanksgiving after childbirth, which is in the Book of Common Prayer.

            I suppose there is always the “RC stands for Retired Christian” approach!

        3. Argh!*

          That happened to me when I moved to Texas, and then when I moved back to the East Coast people didn’t believe me when I told them that!

      2. Maxwell Edison*

        I once worked with someone from the South whose friends and family begged her not to move to California because “they don’t have churches in California.”

          1. neverjaunty*

            Or to the many super-lefty Christian churches in San Francisco, Berkeley and Marin County! Which, er, I guess wouldn’t have eased the minds of that person’s friends and family either.

      3. Anonicorn*

        I grew up in the South and yeah, it’s complicated in a way that’s hard to understand if you haven’t had the experience of being a religious minority in the South.

        Absolutely! Religion here is epigenetic. I don’t even tell certain members of my own family that I’m atheistic, not because I think they’d stop loving me, but because it would be like trying to convince them I have purple skin. They can’t fathom not-religion or not-belief in God with a capital G.

      4. Barefoot Librarian*

        I can attest to the truth of this. I spent a good portion of my formative school years in Georgia and lived there up until about eight months ago. This is EXACTLY what it’s like.

  4. Anonymous Educator*

    This definitely can be uncomfortable even for the Christian folks. I used to work at a super-WASPy small organization, and they had a Christmas party (not holiday party) that seemed to have absolutely no regard for the actual Jewish employees in the org. Awkward.

  5. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I’m German. I was raised Roman Catholic. I’m an atheist now.

    Saying grace before a meal wasn’t a thing in my family, ever. Even my very religious grandmas never do/did it.

    I went to a Roman Catholic Kindergarten run by the parish and we didn’t say grace there…

    The only times it ever was a thing was during summer camp run by our parish or other similar things. And even then, it was short and concise. One sentence, really.

    When I was in the US for work I few years back my manager there invited me to dinner once. I looked up advice about dinner invitations in the US beforehand, so I didn’t embarrass myself too badly. I found that I should expect a prayer before dinner.

    Well, there was one. It was long. Very pompous.

    So I sat there, with my head bowed and hands clasped in my lap, biting my tongue so I didn’t laugh at the absurdity and strangeness of it all.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Speaking of pompous, one of the work prayer at my old office went:
      “We thank Jesus for the benevolence he has granted Mr. Owner, Mr. Owner’s Son, and myself so that we could provide you with this meal.”

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            Jesus would probably run to some spectacular storm/thunder and lighting which would burn the office to a crisp.

                1. Barefoot Librarian*

                  “Jesus is unquestionably metal” is going to be my new catchphrase anytime anyone gets too religious around me.

                  “Do you want to say grace, Barefoot”
                  “Jesus is unquestionably metal. Amen.”

          2. PontoonPirate*

            One of my favorite bumper stickers (seen only on the Internet so far) reads: “Jesus would slap the s**t out of you.”

            I laugh just thinking about it. Then again, “Lamb” is one of my favorite books in the world, ever, so …

      1. MashaKasha*


        This reminds me of something I read many years ago – it may have been on a closed forum, so I’ll try to be as non-identifying as I can. Someone wrote about their sister, who was married to a fundamentalist guy, could not work outside the home, had to have a new kid every year, so of course they were always broke. So of course the poster, not wanting to see their sister and nephews/nieces starve, would load their car with groceries and drop them off at sister and BIL’s house. As the poster would unload bags upon bags of groceries they’d just bought, BIL would never fail to comment to the sister, “See? I TOLD you that the Lord will provide!”

        Ugh, ugh, ugh.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I have a family member who is capable of budgeting but just doesn’t. I have lent her money over the years (no more!). Each time that she would ask and I would send, she was convinced this was God’s Will.

          One time, I was sending her a significant amount and she exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus!”

          I said, “You’re welcome!”

          She didn’t find that nearly as funny (nor satisfying) as I did.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            I once helped a very religious acquaintance save several hundred dollars on the fines from all of her speeding tickets. On the day that I presented the invoice to her showing that she only owed $100 instead of $400, she immediately exclaimed, “PRAISE JESUS! THE LORD IS GOOD!” And I was like, “What?? Jesus had nothing to do with this, you git, that was all me!”

            I have never helped her with anything like that again.

        2. Nother Name*

          This reminds me of Jean Webster’s book “Dear Enemy.” The main character takes over an orphanage (book was written about 100 years ago) and one of the things she does when updating the place is get “The Lord Will Provide” painted over on the cafeteria wall, as it’s such a ridiculous lesson for a bunch of kids who will be expected to fend for themselves once they reach 16.

          For those of you who enjoy classic children’s literature, it’s definitely worth seeking out. The main character is Sallie McBride, who is a supporting character in “Daddy Long Legs.”

          1. LK03*

            I love Daddy Long Legs and also enjoyed many aspects of Dear Enemy, but I felt I ought to add a brief caution to the above recommendation: Dear Enemy has one character — otherwise sympathetic — who holds some rather disturbing views about eugenics (the book dates from the early 1900s).

            But yes, the changes Sallie makes to the orphanage are, for the most part, utterly cheer-worthy.

            And both of these books are free on Project Gutenberg. :)

            1. Victoria, Please*

              Oh, hooray!! I loved those books. (And didn’t even notice the eugenics, as a kid. Must have been Sandy, who now that I think of it repented later.)

              1. Nother Name*

                Yes, there are aspects that can be a little disturbing nowadays. (The history buff in me feels the need to point out that eugenics was a common issue for progressives in the late 19th/early 20th century – they had no idea what it would lead to.) On the other hand, you definitely get a feel for what it would be like to be an educated upper-class woman or an orphan in the 1910s. It’s definitely a book of its time.

      2. Artemesia*

        I think this prayer captures absolutely perfectly the subtext of these prayers; few people say it out loud, but this is what they are thinking.

    2. Lucky*

      I was raised Roman Catholic in the U.S. (I’m a “recovering Catholic” now) and I bet all my fellow American Catholic kids here will recognize this grace, and can say it super super fast:

      Bless us Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts . . . (I’ll let you all finish)

        1. OfficePrincess*

          Immediately followed by theatrical yammering from the crazy uncle about those who aren’t able to be with us (because they died a generation ago). Or is that just me?

          1. xarcady*

            My immediate family followed that grace with a Hail Mary (I have no idea why) and a short prayer for family members who had died. On Sundays and holidays, each member of the family (there were 9 of us) would have to give thanks for one particular thing they were very thankful for.

            One of my grandfathers used to call it the “Smith Family Mass” and declared he didn’t have to go to Mass on Sunday if he was eating dinner at our house that day.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Heh, your grandfather rocked. :)

              We just got down to eating. With three restless kids at the table, one of whom was bound to spend the entire meal whining about the food (my brother), my parents didn’t mess around.

          2. Kelly*

            My father does what is more like a monologue than a short prayer. First, it’s the grace, then he has to thank god for everyone’s health, etc. This isn’t just on Sundays – it’s every meal. To add to the annoyance, dinner has been on the table for nearly 10 minutes before he’s done because he can’t wash his hands while it’s being prepped – he has mild OCD so he insists on doing it right before eating. My lovely late maternal grandfather would have not put up with any of that. He always complained about his food being cold because of the ceiling fan and everyone else being pokey.

      1. BananaPants*

        I’m Lutheran myself, but growing up my daycare provider’s family were very devout Catholics and I could say that grace – complete with crossing myself – with the best of them from a young age.

        1. Beancounter in Texas*

          Isn’t the standard Lutheran prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.”?

          1. Jillociraptor*

            My parents are Lutheran and that’s the one we said growing up, along with an occasional “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for this food, Amen,” which of course I exploited by saying “Goddess great…” :)

    3. AJS*

      The grace my family always said was quite short: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for this food. Amen” Very New England Protestant. I’m now an agnostic, and live alone, but I still find myself thinking the Grace at times.

        1. Al Lo*

          In our Christian household, my husband and I use that one sometimes — except it gets shortened to “Rub-a-dub, amen, go!” It’s the thought that counts, right? :)

        2. Editor*

          At some session of church camp I went to we learned to say “Good food, good meat, good God, let’s eat!”

          My mother, upright Methodist that she was, was not amused when I brought this home.

          1. Temperance*

            My cousin yelled that at Thanksgiving one year, and after that … no more grace! It was a glorious, glorious day, although I don’t think my grandmother or mother ever forgave him for that. (Evangelical Christians)

      1. Kelly L.*

        I was saying that one in church as a teenager and totally tripped over my words, and ended up saying “God is great, God is food…”

        1. Al Lo*

          When my brother-in-law was a kid, he’d get the first phrases mixed up, so then he had to cover his tracks to make the rhyme work.

          “God is good, God is great… uh, let us thank him… uh, for this plate!”

      2. Meg Murry*

        I went to an in-home daycare where this was the pre-meal prayer that was used daily, except before “Amen” it had “In Jesus’ name we pray”. It was very much like the “elemeno” mentioned above – we learned to recite it before meals when we were very young, and a lot of the words slurred together and had no meaning. And we usually said it fairly fast, because we were usually in a big hurry to get down to the business of eating, especially since there was always enough for a single serving, but there usually wasn’t enough for everyone to get second helping of “the good stuff”.

        We lived in a fairly homogenous area where there is a little bit of diversity around ethnicity/race, but I’d say 90-95% of the population was of a Christian background (meaning that even if the family was not explicitly religious and did not attend church, like my family, most of the people had christian roots and therefore celebrated the main christian holidays like Easter and Christmas, or celebrated with grandparents who were churchgoers, etc). Then a Jewish family started attending the daycare, and their 3 year old started reciting the grace before meals at home or when she was playing house/tea party. I guess, because she was 3, it took a little while for the family to understand what she was saying, but once they did, they were pretty offended by the babysitter teaching her to say “In Jesus’ name we pray” – even though she didn’t actually understand at all, and was basically saying “injezuznamwepry” as one nonsense word. I don’t blame the parents one bit for being upset, as there was not a single other thing to indicate any kind of religious basis for the daycare, and in fact I’m not even sure the family went to church anymore – I think it was just a holdover from “this is the prayer I said every day before meals as a child and now I am teaching it to my children and charges”.

        So then we were told either to stop saying that part, or told we had the option not to say it, or to just sit silently during the prayer but it had become rote to us – kind of like if someone told you to stop singing the Alphabet song when you got to Z, and not add on the “Now I know my ABCs …” tail – most pre-meal prayers would then end with an awkward tailing off of someone saying “inJesu ….. oops”. Luckily, there were no extremely religious Christian families to turn it the other way and get offended at dropping either the prayer altogether or dropping the reference to Jesus.

        Other than that context, I was not familiar with prayer at all until I was a teenager and started spending time with some friends where someone (usually, but not always, the father) would give a prayer or blessing before each meal – and it usually wasn’t the rhyme-y chant as mentioned above, but a freeform prayer.

        As to OP’s situation – I too, would be uncomfortable with having a prayer before a meal at work. I think at most, I would prefer either no prayer at all, or at most a completely secular statement, something along the lines of “before we begin, I want to take a moment to thank everyone for joining us … thank the kitchen staff … thank the committee chairs, etc” and then at most maybe something like “and now lets all take a moment to give our own individual silent thanks”. Even that might be a little awkward, but it would be the least offensive, IMO.

        FYI, for anyone thinking of organizing something like this – if you use any of the words “God, Jesus, Lord, Savior, Christ, Creator, Holy Spirit, Jehnovah, Allah” or I’m sure there are more I’ve missed – this is NOT secular. At best, it might maybe be non-denominational, but secular means “without reference to religion at all” not “without reference to a specific religion or specific denomination within a religion”. A good friend of mine was frustrated by this when she signed her kids up for a daycare held in a church basement (because that was all there was in her area) that was run by a separate group, not the church itself. As an agnostic bordering on athiest, she was concerned, but she was specifically told, “oh, it’s a completely secular program”. And then the first day her daughter came home and taught them the prayer they had been taught to say before meals. She was pretty frustrated, and actually went to the preschool director with a dictionary to show her the difference between “secular” and “non-denominational”, and then to have a real chat asking very specific questions like “besides before meals, when else will children say a prayer?” and “how will [X] holiday be celebrated?” and “do the children learn songs containing the words ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, etc?”. The director was a bit surprised by all the scrutiny, but apparently my friend was the first person to sit her down and explain where the disconnect had happened (ie, the word ‘secular’), and how to be more upfront and honest with future potential parents about where religion would be incorporated and at what level. For instance, they stopped saying “completely secular” and shifted to “mostly secular, with the exception of [nondenominational prayer before meals, Christmas pageant, etc]”. After that talk, my friend did decide to keep her daughter enrolled, but asked for advance notice of things like preparations for the Christmas pageant. Before that, parents would just quietly pull their kids and never explain how the staff hadn’t properly represented the program.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep, I’ve definitely seen people do a whole nonsectarian prayer and then accidentally do the “In Jesus’ name we pray” bit at the end. :)

      3. Mander*

        We always said this one, except we added “by his hand we must be fed, give us Lord our daily bread”. And it was always a sort of chant. I didn’t realize that it was a bit weird to say grace until I was in high school and had a boyfriend over for dinner; he dubbed it the “Jones Family Chant” and it has stayed that way ever since.

        My Dad is getting more religious as time goes on, so he’s taken to droning on about other stuff after the “amen”, so I never know when it’s safe to stop praying and start eating…

        1. Kelly L.*

          Do you guys remember the Garfield Christmas special?

          Jon’s brother says grace and seems to end at a natural stopping point, Mom says “amen,” turns out the brother wasn’t done and keeps droning, and finally Grandma hits him with something (a ladle?).

        2. Beancounter in Texas*

          I’ve been to enough Masonic stuff with meals, and they pray beforehand. Instead of saying “Amen,” they say “So mote it be.”

      4. BananaPants*

        Yeah, ours was, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, let these gifts to us be blessed, Amen.” Usually said as quickly as possible and running the words together, so as to get to the eating that much sooner.

        My dad’s version involves adding, “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, yay God!” which is always fun.

        My family are churchgoers but we don’t regularly say grace before meals in our home (or in public for that matter). It always seems so rote, like people are just saying it out of habit without really considering or meaning the words.

  6. Katniss*

    This would make me very, very unhappy and if I could avoid it I probably wouldn’t work anywhere that did that. I’m an atheist and am fine with whatever religion other people choose but I don’t want to have it be an expected part of the workplace.

    On a similar note, I go to AA and was very worried when I first started going early this year that I would be judged for being an atheist. Very rarely has it been an issue, and during prayers at the close of meeting I usually just hold hands but don’t pray. Usually I’m creating a grocery list or something in my head. And that’s FINE in that context, because it isn’t a work environment.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      See that was my question, if you’re not a Christian in these situations what * are* you supposed to do? I was raised in a very strict Christian home but I’m not religious myself, but if faced with something like this I could just play along. But if it’s strictly against another religion do you leave the room or concentrate on something else like you did? Or?

      1. Katniss*

        For meetings, at least, I would judge by the size of the group. At large meetings if I’m not praying no one will notice. At smaller ones it becomes a bit more difficult.

    2. Nother Name*

      I think there are AA groups that cater to atheists, but they might be harder to find. (My grandfather was a recovering alcoholic, and he was very active in his group.) I do think that you can easily remove the religious references in the Serenity Prayer and end up with some pretty good advice for anyone.

      1. Realistic*

        In 12-step meetings, I start with “Grant me….” instead of “God, ….” And I have been to several meetings’ Group Consciences to ask that the closing of the meeting be the Serenity Prayer instead of the Lord’s Prayer. At the very least, let it be Chair’s Choice. If the meeting closes with the “Our Father” I don’t say it. I have seen atheists in meetings stand just outside the circle at the closing prayer. I’m okay with that, too, but I prefer to physically connect with the group while saying a silent mantra to myself.

        1. Katniss*

          I, too, prefer to physically connect. And at the few times where I’ve felt like it would be easier to just say the Our Father, I’ve just kind of reminded myself that to me they’re just words and don’t mean anything about my belief or lack thereof.

      2. Katniss*

        There are, and I am in a bigger city so they’re easier to find. The serenity prayer I have no issues with, but my favorite meeting (and many others) ends with the lord’s prayer and that took me a bit to get comfortable with.

        1. Nother Name*

          Yeah, the Lord’s Prayer is pretty high on the religio-meter. At least there’s some nice stuff about forgiveness and avoiding temptation at the end…

          1. BananaPants*

            And then the Protestants usually tack on the doxology at the end and the Catholics don’t. Even among Christians it isn’t necessarily consistent.

    3. kelseywanderer*

      I find this whole debate really interesting because I was raised Christian (but not very) and am not religious at all anymore. As a result, this type of stuff used to always really, really bother me, but I find that now it doesn’t seem to bother me at all.

      I think that’s probably due to my current status living in a conservative Muslim country, where my non-religious organisation starts every public event with a prayer because it would be considered offensive *not* to do so, and regularly holds prayers in the office lunchroom whenever a staff member has a death in the family.

      You know what I do at these things? Bow my head and think about whatever is on my mind at the moment. The rest of it? Really doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

      Also I should mention that people here are so much less pushy about religion, as well as more accepting of other religions, than I’ve found to be the case in the US’s south.

  7. themmases*

    I hope this OP did say something. To me, the fact that this happened at a health care organization without a religious affiliation just makes it worse.

    As a patient and as someone who has worked in health care, I believe the proper place of religion in this field is to provide comfort and support to patients– not to indulge in expressing our private beliefs. Health care is supposed to be about centering the care and experiences of others, many of whom will not share the personal beliefs of the provider. As health care organization consolidate, people in many areas have relatively fewer options for care that is not religiously affiliated in some way.

    As a patient and a professional I make a deliberate choice to deal with organizations whose mission and values are about secular ideals of serving others– ideals that I share. If I learned that one of those organizations had this going on behind the scenes, I’d feel betrayed.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      My GP is an atheist, like I am, and the day we both discovered this about each other (based on an FSM pin I was wearing) he made me swear to never breathe a word of his atheism to his staff because they’re all super religious.

      I guess I get how the person booking appointments or reconciling insurance filings for a doctor’s office could be religious and perform their job just fine, but I don’t understand how his P.A. and Nurse Practitioner could.

      But then I live in the city where the nurses who were infected with Ebola (and lived) went on camera and thanked Jesus for saving their lives, and gushed about what it a “miracle” it was. So there’s that.

  8. Blue Dog*

    My guess is that the organization just doesn’t think it is a big deal. It might be company specific. It might be the industry. It might even be the regional. (I remember going to dinner with three colleagues in Arkansas and being presented with EIGHT checks at the end of the evening – everyone got their own check for dinner and also their own separate check for the glass of wine they had. I thought it was EXTREMELY strange but was assured “That’s just how it’s done out here.”)

    As long as it is brief and passing “Thank us O Lord for these thy gifts….” I would probably say nothing. But if it became a long, uncomfortable, three minute sermonette, I might be inclined to say something. However, if you do, you will probably get a confused stare back by someone wondering “who could ever object to being thankful.”

    I agree it is not the best practices. You will just need to decide if this is a particular scab you want to pick.

    1. Noah*

      That seems pretty common to me. I always ask for separate checks for alcohol because unless we are entertaining clients it cannot be put on a corporate card or expensed like a meal can. I’ve had several severs offer to do it before I even asked, I guess we looked like someone on a business trip.

      1. Amy UK*

        See, as a Brit that is completely alien to me. Sure, you shouldn’t go on a binge drinking session on the company card, but charging a glass of wine or a bottle between a group isn’t something I’d think twice about.

  9. BenAdminGeek*

    Ugh… ever feel like your “own team” is hurting your cause more than it’s helping? As a Christian I’d be incredibly uncomfortable with this for others who might not be. On the other hand, as a Christian, I’d also feel more confident speaking to the boss here, since I’m coming from the “same tribe” so the defenses might be down a bit and I might be able to help others.

    I know when I’m part of the group being denigrated or excluded (funniest example was a boss saying “All Republicans hate women”), I have not felt comfortable speaking up. I would assume being in a public venue as the OP was would make it even worse- to everyone in the venue you look like you’re agreeing because you’re sitting there while this dude prays.

    1. Adam*


      I’ve been head–>desking the past few days over the Starbuck</3Christmas nonsense. It's just not helping, people.

      As a practicing Christian I'd like to think I would at least approach the higher up in the company who made the prayer and talk about whether or not this was a good idea. Of all the ways to make your staff uncomfortable, this one has the potential to be both widespread and alienating to high degree.

  10. Koko*

    I don’t really mind being subjected to a short cursory blessing before a meal. I’m fine with giving respectful silence for a few moments to allow others to practice their religion. I don’t need to be out of earshot for them to pray. As long as it’s a private company, I’m not expected to pray too, and if someone else wanted to give a different blessing they’d be allowed to as well, I don’t see any problem with it.

    I also sat silently every day in school when they made us pledge allegiance to the flag. As long as I’m not being compelled to participate in something that violates my beliefs I don’t really mind giving people space to practice theirs.

    1. neverjaunty*

      AAM’s column pretty well outlined the problem with it. We’re not talking about the CEO pausing over his own meal to say grace himself, but leading the entire group in grace. How is that not disrespectful and coercive?

      1. Koko*

        I guess I just see it as me being within earshot of a group religious practice rather than coercive or disrespectful as long I’m not expected to participate or penalized in some way for not joining in. That nature of grace is that one person at the table says it for everyone who needs it. I don’t need it but it doesn’t ruin my food to hear it.A As long as, like I said, it’s just a short perfunctory one to check the box off. If it devolved into a minutes-long sermon then I’d consider it way more offensive. I can sit through about 30 seconds of anything.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The issue as I see it is that when it appears to be company-sponsored (and being led by the CEO at a company event will make it appear that way), lots of people will end up worrying that their standing in the company will be linked to their appearing to conform to those religious practices. The standards are different for it happening at work vs. a private home for that reason.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, this. It’s not the prayer itself that would ruin my meal. It’s the secular message behind it.

            And it’s not a short perfunctory prayer to check the box off; that’s not what prayer is.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      To be completely honest, I find it pretty uncomfortable to sit there staring at the tops of heads while others bow theirs and talk of being grateful to God, and then being the only one who doesn’t say “Amen”. If someone would say “Let’s allow those who want it a moment for gratefulness or reflection”, then just a moment of silence, that would be perfect, but even with a lot of Unitarians in my friends and family that’s never how it goes.

      I can certainly live with it, but I’ve always found it awkward when people expect everyone to pray and I’m just sitting there, staring into space. And before anyone suggests it, it actually feels more disrespectful to fake it. Sometimes I will stare down at the table, though…thinking about the food. :) But closing my eyes or looking straight down feels like I’m making fun of their customs, for some reason.

      1. Koko*

        I think someone upthread made the point really well that it’s because I grew up with it and it would be way more jarring for people of other faith backgrounds. I was raised in a fairly religious but liberal family (a few liberal Baptist/Methodist preachers in the family, a few born-agains) but I abandoned religion sometime in college after flirting with paganism during my teen years. My family never pressured me to stay in the church as they felt it’s something you have to come to on your own, so I’ve spent the last 15+ years sitting silently through grace at a half-dozen family meals each year. To their credit no one has ever even asked or called attention to my silence during the “Amen,” which has also maybe helped me feel more comfortable being silent in other places. After reading a lot of these responses I can see how without that same background it’d be way more uncomfortable for others.

  11. mdv*

    Alison, did you know that Ink.com sometimes prevents people from reading your column without signing up? Just an FYI; I don’t want to be signed up for a lot of sites just because I read one thing there. :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — if you’re outside the U.S. or using an ad blocker, Inc. may ask you to register in order to read more than one article there. That’s because they otherwise aren’t able to earn any revenue from those page views, which they’re dependent on.

  12. Doriana Gray*

    This has happened at quite a few events my company has sponsored and it always rubs me the wrong way. I was raised Baptist, but have no religious affiliation as an adult, and I’d rather people not assume everyone thinks the way they do or believes what they believe. If you want to pray, do it silently. Don’t impose your beliefs on unsuspecting people.

    And to go off on a small tangent, my non-religious high school held our graduation ceremony in a church….yeah, I’m still bitter about that. If I wanted to go to church, I’d go on my own, but I don’t thank you very much.

  13. louise*

    My dad was a minister and also was a laborer for his state’s DOT for years among a blue-collar crowd. The folks he worked with would always ask him to pray before their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. His co-workers and bosses were mostly what I think of as “American Christians” where you don’t go to church, but you call yourself a Christian because you listen to country music and would never be a Muslim.

    Anyway, I think they asked him to do that because it both met their perceived obligation to be a good Christian and because they felt a little guilty that all year long he was in the minority as they cussed and told dirty jokes so for 30 seconds twice a year, they’d let him do his thing. But, the big difference is the co-workers initiated it and if he hadn’t been there (or would have been uncomfortable doing it), they would have skipped it. Doesn’t make it right still, but I think it makes a little more sense.

    Now as an adult Christian myself, I’d be really uncomfortable with this at all. I worked for a couple different Christian non-profits all through high school and college and realized I never again want to work for an employer where we are supposed to believe the same things. Ick.

  14. Anonathon*

    I know this is an old/revisited letter, but hypothetically, I would absolutely say something. Maybe the CEO will be mean or defensive in response, but it honestly may not have occurred to him that this was problematic. I’m a (very) secular Jew and religion played almost no role when I was growing up — but that’s unusual where I live now. I have noticed that many folks simply assume that grace (or similar rituals) are something that everyone does, or at least did during childhood. The vast majority of the US identifies as Christian and maybe this CEO has never been to a formal dinner that didn’t include grace.

    I’ve sometimes needed to explain that, yes, pre-meal prayers are by nature religious. Even if you keep them non-denominational. For me, the experience in this letter would be awkward and possible alienating even if I wasn’t asked/told to participate. It just send this message that “we assume everyone here is like us.” But again, if saying grace is so ingrained in the CEO’s life, he may be completely well-meaning and that perspective may never have occurred to him — so it’s worth pointing out.

    1. BRR*

      It might be old but I think there is a strong likelihood of this situation happening in other work places. I like how this letter can apply to a broad audience.

    2. Nother Name*

      I think prayer before meal shouldn’t happen at a company-sponsored event at a secular company. (My mother worked for a religious non-profit when I was a kid, and there was definitely grace before meals at company events.)

      I’d be OK with “Itadakimasu” said before a meal, because as far as I can tell, it’s really just a polite expression of gratitude for food. Also, you get to kind of sing it out in a fun way.

      1. Anonathon*

        Oh I agree! But I’m guessing that the CEO’s decision to include a prayer came from a place of benign non-awareness rather than, say, a desire to proselytize.

  15. Bostonian*

    I worked at a small nonprofit that had a prayer on the program each year as part of our big gala fundraising event. The people asked to lead it really were from a range of faiths and it was kind of used as a way to showcase the diversity of our membership: a Buddhist monk and a rabbi were both asked to do it during the time I worked there, and I know they’d had a Catholic bishop and a Muslim member of the organization in previous years. I didn’t think too much about it because it was presented as “this is just how we do this event,” but looking back it seems really weird. Like, why have a religious element to a completely secular event at all? Especially in such a diverse part of the country with a lot of agnostics and atheists in attendance?

    1. Marty Gentillon*

      I can see one reason: to encourage mutual respect and understanding. While most of the people in the room may not be members of the faith, or religious at all, they can still learn something about each other.

  16. VintageLydia USA*

    Haven’t even read the article yet but I’m lauhging out loud at the stock photo. Feels like me at my in-laws’ for dinners.

  17. Wilton Businessman*

    When the man paying for the meal says “Bow your head”, you bow your head out of respect for his religion. Just as you would do if you went to a Jewish wedding and they asked you to wear a yarmulke, or when you visit someones home and they ask you to take off your shoes. It’s not like he’s trying to convert you or something…

    1. neverjaunty*

      Thanks for illustrating the exact problem: that the person telling people to pray paid for their meal and controls their paychecks, so their participation is coerced.

      Unless your CEO is forcing employees to attend a wedding or visit his home, no, it really isn’t the same as covering your head at temple or taking off your shoes.

      Also: bowing the head during prayer is showing respect to God, not to the person saying grace. The respecful thing to do is to remain quiet so as not to disrupt it.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I generally bow my head but remain silent. The bowing of the head (for me) is more to not stick out like a sore thumb, honestly.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          That’s usually my go to. I look at my hands or my plate or my feet. I don’t say “Amen” because it’s not my prayer. I wish more people would just pray silently to themselves. You get to pray, but I don’t have to if I’m not so inclined. Why is that not more of a thing?

    2. MashaKasha*

      They’re not on a date with him though, neither are they his charity cases, that he’s randomly paying for their meal for no reason at all. They’re at a work conference, not at a Jewish wedding. I suppose he needed them to be there. And he’s not paying out of his pocket, it’s company money. He’s a company employee just like any other. CEOs come and go, you know that, right?

      1. neverjaunty*

        Even if he were paying out of his own pocket (unlikely), it’s coercing his own employees, and extremely disrespectful to the other attendants. But I don’t doubt that many people share this “I pay your wages, you’ll pray the way I want you to” attitude.

        1. MashaKasha*

          That is such a slippery slope though. If your employer tells you to ****, you **** out of respect for his **** (fill in the blanks however you wish)? Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

          Thankfully no one I worked for ever had this attitude. Or, if anyone had, they also had the common sense to keep that to yourself.

    3. Kelly L.*

      The OP doesn’t say she didn’t politely go along in the moment! She asked after the fact about future events.

    4. BRR*

      But he’s not paying for the meal, the company is (I think if it was him it would be more of a gray area). Is he losing anything by not doing it?

      I think part of asking for respect for your religion is also respecting what other people believe in. At a family bat-mitzvah recently my non-Jewish husband was asked to put on a yarmulke and tallit (let’s ignore the Jewish law argument of this) and at my brother’s Jewish wedding all men were given yarmulkes. To me it feels more disrespectful to have people participating in religious practices who aren’t members of that religion. You can be thought of as respectful without having things forced on you. (Obviously all opinion here)

      Also I think shoes are a different category unless it’s a religious and perhaps cultural practice.

      1. BananaPants*

        At my FIL’s late fiancee’s funeral, my husband was asked to be one of the pallbearers. We found out after the Mass that he greatly offended the deceased’s siblings when Mr. BP didn’t go up for communion with the other pallbearers. He explained that we’re practicing Lutherans and according to the Roman Catholic Church we’re not supposed to take communion during Mass because of the whole transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation business – our faith doesn’t forbid it, but he refrained out of respect for their faith’s beliefs. He didn’t make a scene, he just remained seated in the pew while the other pallbearers (all lapsed Catholics) went up.

        The comment of the deceased’s siblings was “It looked bad!”; they seriously expected him to pretend to be Catholic for the day. Never mind that none of them go to Mass outside of Christmas and Easter…

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Recovering Catholic here. Stuff like this amazes me. Now here is a group of Catholics that do not even understand the basics of their faith. Mr BP was right and he was showing respect. And as you are pointing to here, they, themselves were not eligible to receive communion, either.
          Am shaking my head.

      2. blackcat*

        I don’t view having to put on an article of clothing to cover a head to enter a religious center for a religious ceremony to be disrespectful. As a secular woman, I’ve worn specific clothes and/or head coverings to be able to attend religious services of people important to me. For me, covering a head/shoulders/knees/whatever is not in the same category as say, taking communion, which is an explicitly religious practice. It’s more of a “when in Rome…” kind of thing.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Being asked to cover your head is one thing, but insisting everyone wear tallit is weird. A tallit is a prayer garment; it’s not like covering your head (or hair) in a place of worship.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Wearing a head covering out of respect when you’re visiting someone else’s house of worship or you’ve been asked to be present for someone else’s life ceremony is very different from being told to pray to and/or humble yourself before someone else’s god.

      What, is someone really going to try to make a case that the bowing of the head has some other significance? Have at it. I’m not trying to be combative, I’m trying to make the distinction clear.

      What about wearing a keffiyeh vs. being asked to prostrate one’s self and say “asalaam aleikum”? I think most non-bigoted people would be OK with the first, but most non-muslims would be uncomfortable with the second.

    6. olympiasepiriot*

      This is a business meal. In the US. Running a health care business…I don’t know exactly what kind, but one’s personal spiritual beliefs can really affect one’s personal health care choices and someone from one of the more Patriarchal versions of any faith might take advantage of his position to enforce his beliefs on lots of others who weren’t even at that table. I’d be pretty disgusted with him telling everyone to bow their heads and participate.

    7. Student*

      I am American and an atheist; I bow to no man and no God. I have a social obligation to be politely quite and not eat my food until the host finishes grace. I certainly do not have an obligation to bow my head, close my eyes, or similar signals of submission, agreement, or obedience. I’ll fight to the death to preserve my liberty to not worship someone else’s god to “be polite” or “respectful”.

      If the Queen of England or the Pope drove by, I’d politely stay out of the way. I wouldn’t curtsy or bow. I wouldn’t salute, I wouldn’t sing “God Save the Queen”, and I wouldn’t make anti-Catholic sneers nor jokes about the royal family. I don’t expect them to salute our country’s flag when they happen past it. I don’t expect them to forswear important religious customs if I host them – they can say grace over their own food if it’s important to them, or attend Sunday church services. In return, I expect them not to hassle me when I do not attend church services with them, or don’t say grace with them, or don’t observe their religious limitations on food, apparel, behavior, etc. If anything, it is disrespectful and anti-American to expect everyone else to bow to your god out of “respect” to you.

      1. Chinook*

        “If the Queen of England or the Pope drove by, I’d politely stay out of the way. I wouldn’t curtsy or bow.”

        I have been by both when they driven by (travelling with usually ends up in very unique situations) and both I consider my leader as a Canadian Catholic and neither time was I required to kneel or bow (probably would be different if we were introduced.) The negative comments about the Queen were not unexpected but rude while the Pope was arriving for World Youth Day, so we were all fans. But bowing out of respect wouldn’t have meant I was subservient to them in my min. I often bowed in greeting in Japan (but never while visiting a shrine) because there is a difference between following social custom that isn’t meant to humiliate you and bowing in subjugation. Every Sunday I bow in subjugation at our tabernacle and I can feel the difference in my body and soul, which is why I wouldn’t do it while visiting temples and shrines.

        It should be noted that, from a security point of view, if you don’t act like those around you when there is someone well known, security will be focused on you for potential trouble as they are trained to look for the person who is not blending in.

        1. Amy UK*

          “But bowing out of respect wouldn’t have meant I was subservient to them in my min. I often bowed in greeting in Japan (but never while visiting a shrine) because there is a difference between following social custom that isn’t meant to humiliate you and bowing in subjugation. ”

          But it is being subservient. You might not find it degrading, but you bow to the Pope or curtsey to the Queen as a mark of respect to their office. And that office is “I am your ruler” (in the Pope’s case “as the highest representative of God on Earth” and the Queen “as your benevolent monarch”). Likewise, you bow to the tabernacle in respect of its elevated status as a divine object. So bowing to them is an inherently subservient act, even if it makes you feel good.

          You bow to them when you bow to no-one else, so it is inherently acknowledging them having a vastly superior status to you and everyone else you interact with and don’t bow to (your parents, your boss etc). So can you not see why someone who doesn’t consider the Queen or the Pope to be any kind of authority over them wouldn’t want to bow to them?

          It’s not at all comparable to bowing in Japan, where bowing is a social convention that everyone takes part in regularly. A bow in Japan is the equivalent of a polite handshake or greeting in the West. It’s a mutal recognition of respect, and sometimes of slight authority. Bowing to your boss in a society with established bowing protocols isn’t the same as bowing to the Queen or Pope in a generally non-bowing society.

    8. xarcady*

      The thing is, if someone were uncomfortable attending a Jewish wedding, or a Wiccan wedding, they could always just decline the invitation. If someone is uncomfortable taking off their shoes at someone’s home, or at a mosque, they can just not enter the building.

      But it’s harder to avoid when it’s at work and you have to be there in order to earn your paycheck. And if you want to keep earning that paycheck.

    9. Anonicorn*

      I think many people mistake “respecting religion” with “respecting the right for someone to have a religion.” The former requires me to believe in something and participate, while the latter does not and allows me to maintain my own religious (or lack thereof) dignity.

    10. Temperance*

      That is so amazingly tone-deaf. These examples are not even close to being the same thing. As an atheist, I am highly disturbed.

      Why do I feel like you wouldn’t expect a Christian to forego his or her beliefs if an atheist was writing their checks ….

  18. MashaKasha*

    This happened exactly once at Fortune 500 OldJob. On September 11, 2002, we were all invited to gather in the lobby and participate in a short memorial, organized by the executive admin assistant. There was a large turnout. Most of our department showed up. As a side note, our dept was known at OldCompany as “The United Nations”. Meaning, a lot of people that were originally from all over the world showed up. The exec admin assistant made all of us Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, what have you, stand in a circle and hold hands while she recited the Lord’s prayer. “our father who art in heaven” and so on all the way to the “amen.” TBH I paid very little attention to that part, because she made me hold hands with the one coworker I couldn’t stand, so I just stood there with my head bowed, saying my own silent prayer for all of it to be over.

    There were complaints. She got into some level of trouble for that and we never had another 9/11 memorial.

    What I am saying is that IMO a prayer in a workplace is trouble waiting to happen. Almost everyone will be uncomfortable, someone will complain, and rightfully so. A small company or a family-owned company might be able to get away with it, but a large corporation, never. As it should be.

    1. Observer*

      But, to be honest, the real problem here wasn’t even the prayer (although it was not appropriate), but the way it was organized. Making people hold hands is asking for trouble, prayer or not. People have all sorts of reasons to not hold someone’s hand, and it’s no one’s business to tell them otherwise. Obviously if you are a firefighter whose job involves carrying people out of burning buildings, or a nanny who has to hold the hand of a child in the street, that’s a different issue. But in a normal workplace?

      The good news is that apparently the higher ups realized that something went wrong here.

      1. MashaKasha*

        As I was told (through the grapevine, admittedly), she got in trouble specifically for inserting religion into the workplace. The hand-holding was never mentioned, though, I agree, it was yucky.

  19. Annonbecuseimprobablywrong*

    If someone is not in upper management or responsible for P.R. for the company they work for, why would they say a word? You weren’t incredibly offended so I think you should leave it alone. I’d like to hear how some CEO’s would react if someone from the middle of the food chain told them how to run their celebratory dinner.

      1. Nother Name*

        Also, the way I’m reading the letter, it sounds like not everyone involved was an employee of the organization, so there’s also the PR angle to consider. If I attended a health care conference and the CEO of the organizing group started a meal off with a prayer, it would definitely color my attitude about that group, as well as their understanding of professional norms.

    1. Artemesia*

      When I see comments like this it just illustrates why this is bullying behavior and bullying someone to participate in a religious ritual is grotesque.

  20. whataweek*

    This would be incredibly out of place in every business I’ve ever worked at here in Canada. When I worked in Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand…! Prayers before and after every meeting and “God bless” in email sign-offs! I was generally uncomfortable but just chose to grin and bear it.

  21. pony tailed wonder*

    My boyfriend prays before each meal and I am agnostic. I just let him be him and then I get to be me. I can sit through a prayer if it makes other people happy.

  22. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    This reminds me of growing up in girl scouts. If you’re at camp, you say grace with every meal. I wasn’t particularly religious growing up and consider myself agnostic now, but those graces didn’t bother me. My two favorites were the “Tony the Tiger Grace” which was literally just the word “Grrrrrace” and you pump your fist.

    The other one that was okay was the Addams Family Grace:
    “We thank the Lord for giving
    all that we are living,
    and so we ask his blessing,
    and for the food we eat”

    na na na nah (snap fingers twice)
    na na na nah (snap fingers twice)
    na na na nah (sing three times) (snap twice)

    1. Kate M*

      Oh man! We did these at the church camp I went to as a kid. We used to love them. We did the Jaws blessing, Johnny Appleseed blessing, Superman blessing, so many fun ones.

    2. Elsajeni*

      I also grew up non-religious and the Girl Scout camp graces REALLY bothered me, mainly because, by the time I started going to camp, I had done enough Girl Scout stuff through my church* that I knew Girl Scouting as an organization had no religious affiliation, and welcomed girls of all religions… except during the 5 seconds-to-2 minutes immediately preceding a meal, apparently.

      * It just occurred to me that this sounds like it makes no sense — I both attended church and was basically non-religious? I was raised Unitarian.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        That’s an interesting perspective. I always found them less exclusionary than your usual Our Fathers, etc…

        Perhaps my own lack of objection is because they were songs. I like to sing, and was in choir in school for awhile and for some reason singing things with religious overtones impacts me less than saying them (and saying amen afterwards). In middle school choir, we sang (a version) of Ave Maria. I enjoyed the beautiful sounds and didn’t really think about it being “hail Mary, full of grace”.

        1. Al Lo*

          Yeah, choral music in the Western canon has very religious roots. It’s nearly impossible to sing in a choir and not sing a Gloria or an Agnus Dei or a requiem, whether you’re singing traditional or contemporary music. Not to say that’s all a choir can sing (my own choir sings a lot of those classics, as well as a lot of repertoire from other traditions and cultures, including Jewish, Tamil, and Miq’Maq), but it’s a significant part of a broad musical education.

          1. TychaBrahe*

            That can backfire, too. At my school our middle school choir once did a holiday program. We were a secular private school with about 60% Jewish students, enough so that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were school holidays and Good Friday wasn’t.

            The holiday program was a mix of Christmas music, secular winter music, and one song in Hebrew that I guess the musical director thought was for Hanukkah. It was a Passover song, though.

  23. Lirael*

    I went to a Big Ten school in a fairly liberal Midwestern city, but now I work at a mid-sized public university in the South and some of the departments here pray at certain meetings and campus events. (Fortunately, my department doesn’t do this.) It completely caught me off-guard the first time. I’m an atheist and it does make me uncomfortable. Even if you stay politely silent, people notice that you’re not joining in. And I’m pretty sure that the people who think a Christian leading a prayer at a state university event is okay would be super uncomfortable if a Wiccan or Muslim led a prayer. That’s what really gets me.

    1. MashaKasha*

      “And I’m pretty sure that the people who think a Christian leading a prayer at a state university event is okay would be super uncomfortable if a Wiccan or Muslim led a prayer.”

      I’m pretty sure of that too.

  24. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’d ignore a one-time occurrence, but I’d be uncomfortable working for an employer who made prayer a regular workplace practice.

  25. Atheist In a Christian Company*

    The OP could very well be my co-worker. I work at a company where I could see our CEO doing that. And we’re in health care. :)

    Our CEO is our founder. We often have optional prayer meetings over lunch when somebody is going to leave…either on a mission trip or somebody in a reserve branch of the services that is deploying to active duty.

    Some people at our company are self-proclaimed atheists. I haven’t see any backlash against them. That said, I don’t believe it’s anybody’s business, so I haven’t brought up my beliefs (or lack thereof) at work.

    My boss is a one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. He has a coffee mug with “Jesus” emblazoned on the side.

    I’ve participated in off-the-cuff discussions that started with a Biblical theme. I can hold my own. My knowledge of the Bible is greater than most self-proclaimed Christians. After all, how could I decide that I have no belief without at least first learning everything I could about the beliefs of my ancestors?

    We send quite a few of the leaders (myself included) in our company to a Christian-themed leader conference each year: Global Leadership Summit. It’s non-denominational.

    What do I do when there’s either a moment of silence or a prayer? I close my eyes, I bow my head, and I meditate for a few moments. Hmm. Other than my not voicing an “Amen,” that’s pretty much what the believers do, too.

    Here’s the rub. Of all the places I’ve worked, the top two have been led by openly devout founders. It’s actually nice being around people who are trying to be good Christians. It would be nice being around people who are trying to be good Muslims. (I’ve worked with a handful, but have never been in a Muslim company.)

    If you like the company, then don’t worry about it. If it makes you really uncomfortable, ask yourself why. My guess is that Christians–like all humans–are fallible and don’t always live according to their chosen teachings. Some do a better job than others.

    I’m fine with a Christian leading a prayer. I’m fine with a Muslim doing so. I’m even fine with a Wiccan incantation. Some of my best friends identify themselves as Wiccan. One of my best friends is a Southern Baptist preacher.

    It isn’t uncommon that I find myself in a room as being the only person who holds the correct spiritual belief. :)

    1. neverjaunty*

      You don’t believe that it’s anybody’s business what beliefs somebody at your work has…. yet you have co-workers and bosses who make their beliefs other people’s business? Nobody at work knows you differ from the mainstream beliefs at work… yet you are positive that people who are known to have differing beliefs suffer no negative repercussions? This doesn’t quite jibe.

      If you want to be the Cool Agnostic/Atheist at work, that is entirely your business. I’m not following why it’s that hard to understand that other people might very well be concerned that an overtly Christian company might not be the fairest place for them to work. (And there are many places where ‘doesn’t believe’ is treated with much more courtesy than ‘believes in something completely different.)

      1. MashaKasha*

        Agree, that company doesn’t sound very awesome to me from what is being described. Sounds like the amazing bosses are going out of their way to make their employees uncomfortable. And they absolutely do not have to. I have worked for some very devout Christians (still work for some). Somehow none of them ever made their religion mine, or any other of my coworkers’ business. The closest any of my bosses ever got to getting all religion-y on us in the workplace, was when my (super devout Protestant) ex-boss told us at a meeting, “No requirements, no date. Know requirements, know date!” heh heh. Or when we all had to work over a weekend and the same guy told us, “I don’t want any of you here in the office on Sunday morning, go be with your families and come in later.” Also okay with me. None of them made us pray. None of them ever sent us to Christian-themed anything. It can be done. Then again, not going to lie, I’ve been fortunate to work for some pretty awesome people.

        As a former Christian, I’ll go ahead and hazard a guess that someone who’s using their position of power to unload massive amounts of their religion on people who work for them and cannot opt out, is not in fact “trying to be a good Christian”, or at the very least, they’re not trying as hard as they should.

  26. Govt Employee*

    I had this happen at a mandatory event at a government agency, with open atheists, Jews, Muslims & an African Animist among the employees. The person who organized it announced her retirement the next week. I always wondered if she broke the law on purpose knowing she was about to leave or if she was forced out because of it. I was still mulling over whether to complain about this when the announcement came. We never had another instance of this stuff. There were a LOT of angry people.

    1. Temperance*

      I would have complained so long as I didn’t have to fear anti-atheist discrimination. I would certainly never speak to that woman again.

  27. ZG*

    Alison, just an FYI that you could maybe relay to the Inc.com folks. While I had your article up, the video from the next article (still completely offscreen) started playing. Very disconcerting, plus there was no way to pause that video.

  28. xarcady*

    And now I’m having flashbacks to junior year of high school. I’m a practicing Catholic, and my family is from Boston. Dad was in the military, and for about 6 months, he was stationed in Texas, and I went to the local, public, high school there for a bit.

    Went to the first football game, and they had a minister offer a prayer, asking God to let the team win, before the game. This struck me as odd, as this had not happened at any other place we’d lived. And I’d been brought up that it was wrong to pray for worldly goods/success for yourself. And I mean–praying over a football game? At a public school?

    I mentioned my puzzlement about the prayer to a few of my new friends.

    The following Monday I was called to the Principal’s office, where I was accused of hating God and not being Christian. And told that my “Northern ways” were not appreciated in Texas. Apparently, my new “friends” had told a teacher what I’d said, and the teacher found it worth reporting to the principal!

    That’s how seriously some parts of the US take prayer.

    1. MashaKasha*

      This one in particular strikes me as odd. Do any of these people realize that they are praying for the other team to lose? doesn’t get any more un-Christian than that.

      I could not stand it when people failed to keep their religion to themselves, even during the years when I went to church 2x/week and taught Sunday school. I have an even lower tolerance for it now.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I never could figure out why people thought God cared who won a sports game, until I had an epiphany: sports are kind of like ritualized small “wars” between cities (or schools or whatever). And waaaaaaay back in the day, the different cities would have had different gods, and presumably your God would want your city to win, and that whole instinct has stayed in our psyche even as real war has vastly increased in scale and even as monotheism has become more popular.

    2. doreen*

      There’s a certain type of Christian that believes if a prayer does not offend them, it can’t offend anyone who is in any way religious and certainly not any other Christians. But that’s not true- I remember reading once that most of the lawsuits about school prayer were not brought by atheists but rather by Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses , etc. They probably didn’t object to the concept of prayer – but the form or intention of the prayer was likely inconsistent with their beliefs. * Praying before a game in itself doesn’t surprise me. My kids played in Catholic Youth Organization sports and they prayed before every game or meet- but that wasn’t a public school and the prayer was not for victory. It asked God to bless and watch over the participants and thanked God for bringing everyone together.

      * I always wondered what the reaction at those schools would have been if a Catholic student had volunteered to lead the prayer and chosen the “Hail Mary”. I suspect it would not have gone over well.

      1. Mander*

        I’ve always found it very strange to pray for personal gain like that. I think your kids’ school version makes more sense.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I am chuckling, I was told growing up that God has better things to do than control outcomes of games. It was disrespectful to ask to win a game. That has stuck with me so even now when I see it I think “how odd!”.

  29. Newlywed*

    A vendor took our department out to lunch today and loudly prayed before the meal! Now, I’m a Christian and I probably would have prayed (silently) in my seat before the meal started, but I was so surprised that he wanted to pray aloud for the meal for the whole table! It did strike me as very odd and kind of inappropriate…isn’t there even a passage in the New Testament about how certain types of prayer should be done in private, between you and God, and not in front of others? Anyway, I get how it could make people uncomfortable to force your prayers on someone :(

  30. HRish Dude*

    My non-religious employer in a public building with hundreds of visitors (in a neighborhood that was largely Muslim) plus 600 employees used to do a daily Christian prayer on the intercom.

    Everytime…I was like…yeesh.

  31. AllieJ0516*

    Born and raised Jewish. In Florida since the 70s, which at the time WAS the “deep South”. I regularly ran across people who had never seen a Jewish person before! I’ve been in situations where prayers are said before meals, before meetings, etc. I simply bow my head and think my own thoughts, as a matter of respect. I am not offended when the name “Jesus” is used. I don’t subscribe to it whatsoever, but what is it hurting? We are adults, we can control our own thoughts. It’s not offensive, calling for pain or suffering to befall anyone, it’s asking for blessings. It’s not forcing you to change your own beliefs. If you don’t believe, ignore it. I’ve been to countless weddings and funerals held in churches of all denominations, and follow the same thought process. To me, it’s just not worth getting so worked up about.

      1. AllieJ0516*

        It’s simply saying that you are in charge of your own thoughts. If someone else wants to pray, that’s their business, you are under no obligation to pray yourself. However, out of respect, just be silent for the time and then move on. Not worth making such a big deal about it… I pick my battles, that’s not one I choose to fight.

  32. Blurgle*

    I never bow my head or close my eyes during Christian prayer.

    I can’t think of anything more disrespectful (bordering on outright blasphemy) to a religion than to fake-pray. I would also strongly doubt the sincerity of any professed Christian who would expect a non-believer employee to act this way.

    1. Temperance*

      My .02: I’ve done it before when I felt pressured or forced to join in a prayer. I don’t really consider it disrespectful, though, because I feel very disrespected personally when Christians just assume that everyone else follows their belief system (or worse, that they are just right, so the rest of us can go pound sound). It’s self-preservation at that point.

      I’m an ex evangelical, though, and I know that public prayer was supposed to be a form of witness.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Wow. I didn’t know that about public prayer! Then again, I only was a evangelical for a couple of years before switching to Eastern Orthodox, and then to Greek Orthodox, and then (20 years later) back to nothing. That public prayer should be a form of witness, directly contradicts what’s in the Bible! what were they thinking when they came up with that idea?! That was what I liked about being Orthodox – they don’t proselytize. Don’t witness, don’t pray in public as a form of witness etc.

        “or worse, that they are just right, so the rest of us can go pound sound”

        Welp, the Purpose Driven Life does say that you should only be concerned about getting along with other Christians, because they are the ones that you’ll spend the eternity with in Heaven, and the rest… well, yeah pretty much.

        This thread has certainly brought back some interesting memories!

  33. Temperance*

    As an atheist, I can tell you that I would absolutely take this as a sign that I needed to dust off my resume ASAP. Yikes.

    1. Argh!*

      Me too. There’s plenty of reason to doubt the fairness of employment policies if something like this goes on.

  34. Cucumberzucchini*

    At previous job there was lots of praying. Owner was a zealot. The crazy kind. Every meeting that he was a part of opened with a prayer. Sometimes the prayer lasted an hour. I’m not exaggerating. (It’s all good fodder for the book I will write about it one day.) This was the kind of place where it would be held against you and you would be fired for not participating. If I had been so inclined I probably could have made some serious money suing for many things but that’s not what I was trying to get out of that job. As an agnostic there was a lot of fake “amening” on my part coupled with internal eye-rolling. It was all surreal and ridiculous and eyeopening. I guess I didn’t realize these types of caricatures truly existed. It’s not that I haven’t been around religion, I was raised Catholic, went to Sunday School and went through all the sacraments. Most of the people around me are Baptist. But this infiltration of religion like this into the workplace was nutty.

  35. Shannon*

    I’m agnostic. If prayer bothers you that much, just don’t participate in it. If your religion is different than the one being prayed about, close your eyes and say your own prayer in your head. It really doesn’t kill anyone to sit quietly for two minuets.

    I don’t take offense to other people’s culture and customs, and I don’t expect them to change for me.

    1. Ham Sandwich*

      Neither does it kill anyone if no prayer is said. It goes both ways.

      If a custom is alienating to employees, it’s not a bad thing to consider changing them.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Also, I kind of feel like several other commenters covered the “It doesn’t bother me so it shouldn’t bother you” bingo square?

    2. Temperance*

      It doesn’t kill Christians to not force others to bend to their will, either, yet they still insist on doing things like this so often.

    3. Mander*

      It doesn’t kill anyone to keep their religious beliefs in their home or place of worship and not use it to make their colleagues uncomfortable (or coerce them into participating), either.

    4. Omne*

      The interesting thing I find from these comments is how utterly dogmatic some of the athiests sound. If you replaced the word athiest with christian there would be no difference between them and some of the more extreme evangelicals I’ve heard. It appears that for some atheism is just a much a matter of faith and belief as any religion.

      1. Mander*

        I’m not an atheist, but of course it’s a matter of faith and belief — it still takes conviction to *not* believe in something.

        At any rate, I am pretty dogmatic about the separation of church and state, and keeping religious beliefs out of arenas where it doesn’t belong, like the workplace. I don’t see this as a problem.

  36. Dot Warner*

    One of my previous employers (a hospital) used to play devotional with a prayer and a Bible passage over the loudspeaker every single weekday. I repeat, every freaking weekday. It irritated the hell out of me, and I’m a practicing Catholic! Evidently nobody thinks they need to “render unto Caesar” anymore…

  37. Amazing Grace*

    I WOULD LOVE TO WORK FOR A COMPANY LIKE THIS. Bow your head and have a moment of personal thought if you don’t want to pray – that is your prerogative. I am amazed and relieved to see that God-fearing folks still lead and live in America. God Bless America!!!

  38. fred*

    A friend of mine went for an interview at some company for an accounting job. The interviewer told him “Everything we do here is for the glory of Jesus.” So my friend, who is a Christian himself, stood up, said “thank you for your time” and walked out.

    Unfortunately I have dealt with many businesses that use a Christian image to get away with murder. When they cheat you, they try to make you feel guilty for complaining about it.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      One of the worst bosses I’ve ever had tried a secular version of that tactic. He’d go on and on about how “ethical” his business was and how every other company was a big evil heartless corporate behemoth – while paying people way under minimum wage and weeks late. He also set up a really skeevy situation where his secretary, whom he was inappropriately flirtatious with (to her private dismay), lived with him and was on call as his maid 24/7 – with what he was paying her, the $200 a month room in his house he “generously” offered in exchange for this deal was the only place she could afford!

      And of course he’d tell you if you quit that you weren’t good enough to get a job anywhere else, so he was doing you a favor because he was sooo ethical amd caring.

      People who go out of their way to tell you how nice they are usually aren’t very nice at all.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Wow. The secretary thing sounds ethical, all right. So is being weeks late on paychecks. What was this guy smoking?

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve posted about this before, but I sent a resume to someone who then passed it on to another company. The boss of that company called me and we had a chat. During the chat, he said “We really believe our business comes from God, etc. and we have prayer meetings in the office on Wednesday [a traditional day for a midweek service in a lot of churches here]. So what religion are you?” This was a title company, btw.

      I was like ummmmmmmm but I answered just to see what happened–I told him I was raised Catholic. He said, “Oh, we have a Catholic lady here; she’s fine with all this.” Well, I wasn’t. I basically said thank you but no thank you, I didn’t think it was right for me. Then I hung up and called the state career center office. They said to call the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights office and report it. I did, and they said they had had MANY complaints about that company’s interviewing practices!

      I’m pretty sure I would have been treated badly if I didn’t participate in these prayer meetings, had I been hired. And I don’t believe that business comes from God, even though I do believe in God. It comes from supply and demand! Plus, in my limited experience, people who make a huge point of telling you how godly they are tend to be rather hypocritical when it comes to treating other people well, including employees.

  39. Lauren*

    I might also suggest having an invocation rather than a blessing. Caveat: I’ve found that 95% of people have no idea what the difference is between the two. There’s plenty of ways to show thanks (to God(s), to the chef who prepared it, to the hosts who bought it, whoever) without explicitly bringing religion or faith-based figures into the wording.

  40. Mer*

    I encountered this at the last organization I worked at – praying before meals and large meetings. What concerned me the most was no one else found it inappropriate for senior execs or the HR Director (!!!) to be praying before meetings or meals (this was in a very popular restaurant chain in the South.) I would be looking around the room to see if an eyebrow was raised or if someone had that “What the heck?” look on their face, and not a one. Such a bizarre and uncomfortable experience.

  41. TychaBrahe*

    Back in the late 90s, I was part of a large national company’s Y2K conversion team. We had to travel around the country teaching people to use the new compliant software. So our five-person training team, three of whom are Jewish, are standing at the back of a hotel room in Alabama while the division president is explaining how the conversion will happen. And at the end of his speech, he asked people to bow their heads and pray “in Jesus’s name” for the success of the meeting. Those of us on the training team were shocked, especially the Jews.

  42. Middle Name Jane*

    We just had something like this happen this week at our Thanksgiving potluck. A co-worker known to be religious asked us all to join hands (ew! I’m a germaphobe) and bow our heads while she gave a Christian-oriented blessing before we ate.

    I was raised Christian and still consider myself to be one, although I don’t attend church. I’m just uncomfortable with the idea of religion being a part of the workplace when the employer is not a religious-based one (i.e. a church, religious charity, etc.).

    Years ago at another job, a religious co-worker used company e-mail to invite us all to her church for a screening of “The Passion of the Christ.” Another example of something I find inappropriate in the workplace.

  43. MissDisplaced*

    The thing that always bothers me most about this sort of thing is that WHY must they insist it is PRAYER?
    That automatically singles it out as being “Christian” as the priority while excluding all else.

    I always feel that if management insists on doing this sort of thing, they should just say “Please take a moment of silence,” and then let people make of it what they will. It’s such a slight change, and would likely offend no one.

  44. Beancounter in Texas*

    Last night, my husband’s department took employees and spouses to III Forks – a very nice restaurant – to celebrate a very successful fiscal year. After the first course arrived, the department head got everyone’s attention and asked to pray before the meal. His prayer lasted about 30 seconds, included mentioning “The Father,” “God,” and “Jesus Christ.” This is the South, so I’m accustomed to just looking down at the table when others pray, but I noticed across the table that two other couples didn’t bow their heads or pray at all. I immediately thought of this blog post!

  45. Anon For this Post*

    I guess I am late commenting about this, but I feel the need to vent. The job I was previously at in Florida (not really deep south in my location…) did prayers and the pledge of allegiance during company lunches that were typically done on major christian holidays. They always mentioned to nonbelievers to stand and join in a moment of silence… Growing up without any religion, I never felt comfortable about it, so I sucked it up and just nodded my head down.

    Honestly it reminded me of some of the religious activities I was invited to back in high school, you had your social time and games with others, but at the end you would typically here an evangelical christian messages and talk about the company/family missionary work afterwards. Depending on the employee that was being recognized, they’d also mention their devoutness to church, man of faith, etc.

    I would have preferred to eat my lunch from home than the food that was chosen, unless the IT group planned the lunch. They always chose good food to eat of something atypical and different. I also had a strange feeling by the manager to go to the lunches and if I didn’t it would probably look bad. Noticed IT contractors never went to the company wide stuff, lucky lol.

    The warnings were mentioned on the companies Glassdoor review, and it never affected my job output. It was just a pet peeve of mine about religion in the workplace.

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