update: we can be fired if our friends and family don’t follow the company’s religious values

Remember the letter-writer in March whose company wanted everyone to sign a statement saying they could be fired if their family and friends didn’t follow the company’s religious values? Here’s the update.

I really appreciated hearing from you, Donna the lawyer, and your readers. I really felt like I was crazy for wanting to push back on this and feeling like it was an overreach of boundaries. Everyone was so supportive and I don’t feel like the crazy one anymore. Trust me when I say that some days when I leave work I go through the comments again to remind myself of how awesome this community is. Thank you, everyone!

I’ve been waiting to send you an update since I wanted to give you more happy news than not. Here’s where I’m at right now –

First, the good news. Enough of us pushed back on the new policy that they took back the document they wanted us to sign. I think I mentioned in the comments that I emailed my concerns to some of the higher ups. I never did get a response, but I later found out several other staff and faculty members did the same thing. The new, revised document came out a few week ago and it’s basically a reworded version of the one we’ve already signed. After going through it with a fine-toothed comb, I don’t see any wording in there about our friends and family accountable to the new lifestyle document. Any rewording done seems to be merely updating the vocabulary of the document. We’ll still lose our jobs if we don’t sign it, but since it’s so close to the original document there hasn’t been as much angst as before. That doesn’t mean we haven’t lost faculty and staff members over this. More are either looking at other universities or decided to go ahead and retire, but more on that in a minute.

Now the bad news. I did try to use your advice. I started looking for a job right after the letter was published. Not long after, a large chunk of funding was cut from the education sector in the area that I live in. Many schools had layoffs and my own institution is suffering (benefits are starting to be cut and there are rumors of layoffs here too). When applying for jobs, I know I’m competing against people with graduate degrees, more experience, and who can start immediately. I’ve received very few invitations for interviews and haven’t received an offer yet. (I will say that those who have interviewed have given me feedback and they all say that I should be encouraged that my resume and cover letter got me the interview. I give you and your archives a lot of credit for those comments.)

My department has had a 65% turnover rate since I started and most of those people have left for non-academic jobs. I’m now a “senior” member a year and a half in. We’re also in a hiring freeze, so we really have to push to replace those who’ve left. Since I worked so hard to get a job in academia and am still passionate about higher education, I am hesitant to leave a position in an academic setting. I don’t know how/when I’ll be able to get back in again if I do leave. I also want to go to graduate school (both as a personal goal and I need it to advance in my career). I’m beginning to think that I’ll need to do that first if I don’t find another job soon. It’s been hard coming to that realization, since my hope was to pay off my undergraduate debt before I go back.

I know I’ve made a positive difference in a lot of different departments (I think helping people realize that unpaid overtime is illegal and helping build a good rapport between my department and others are good things, right?), but I’m starting to burn out. Every morning I wake up and wonder what battle is going to be fought that day. I’ve lost a lot of political capital I had with my supervisors and really do wonder how many more people we’re going to lose before something changes. I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do when the new salary regulations go into place and most of the staff become hourly. We already have too much to do, not enough people, and our morale is incredibly low.

I’m sorry that I can’t give you better news and completely understand if you don’t want to share it with your readers (I’m a bit of an Eeyore right now). I know it’s probably not the update anyone wanted to hear, but I hope to give you another, more positive, update soon.

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Prismatic Professional*

    Dear Eeyore,

    This is not your fault. Everyone will be grateful there IS an update! Thank you so much for sharing! Please be very very kind to yourself! You deserve it!

    P.S. My entire city celebrates your birthday every year!

  2. Catalin*

    Dear Eeyore,

    Don’t blame yourself for not being able to move a mountain. You moved a boulder and that’s enough. Hope you find a good position soon!

    1. 2 Cents*


      Keep your head up, your eyes open for new opportunities, and repeat after me: “The general atmosphere at work is neither my responsibility nor my fault.”

    2. Eeyore (aka LW)*

      Thank you, Catalin. I appreciate you saying that. Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not a superhero (despite the fact that that is how I imagine myself).

  3. Murphy*

    Don’t be so hard on yourself! You and all of the other employees who voiced their concerns higher ups led to the wording getting changed, which is great!

  4. eplawyer*

    1. You got the document changed. That is a huge plus. Review this site and see how many times bosses are just plain unreasonable.

    2. Going to grad school even if your undergrad loans are not paid off might not be a bad plan. Yes, you would like to not add more debt. But there are some positives to going to grad school now 1) it gets you of your toxic environment 2) it moves you towards your career goals sooner 3) it gets you out of your toxic environment 4) you can network for jobs (trust me grad school a LOT easier to network for those academia jobs) and did I mentioned it gets you out of your toxic environment?

    1. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys*

      If the OP stays though, it may mean free graduate school. I took a lower paying job at a university just so I could go to graduate school for free after I had been there a year. It is a great employee perk that offsets usually lower pay in academia, if you are willing to do it one class at a time. Depending on your field or cost of the institution, it is a great way to stay out/significantly reduce your debt. But for the OP, is it worth the mental cost?

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        That also assumes that they have the grad program she’s looking to complete AND said program has a strong reputation. What good is a free master’s if it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on?

        1. Audiophile*

          This is true.

          There’s a big difference between going to a local community college for a Masters and going to a more reputable, and usually more expensive program. As someone who’s been researching different graduate programs and universities, it becomes more apparent.

        2. Eeyore (aka LW)*

          Although my school offers graduate degrees at a discount (it’s not free until you’ve worked here for four years), they don’t offer anything that I want to pursue. Plus, they’re not strong programs. One of my coworkers is doing this and she’s told me in the past that she worked harder in her undergraduate program than her graduate.

        3. Honeybee*

          That, plus I would be wary of using free education as the carrot to keep you in a toxic situation. It can be great if it works out, but I think very quickly you start to feel stuck even if things go so far south that you really, really need to leave.

      2. Temperance*

        If her school has such strict requirements, they might not be top ranking. I’ve seen very few great schools that police behavior.

      3. Jane D'oh!*

        A lot of places give you a pay-back timeline, though, which would lock her in to even longer employment. For example, from my old job, “An employee must remain with the company/institution for 24 months after the end date of his final class. Voluntary resignation before this time will requirement repayment of tuition, due in full on the employee’s final day of work.”

        1. The Strand*

          Yes, this is a perfect point to make. A lot of employers who used to offer this benefit are getting more stringent about it also, so if your institution offers it, look closely to see if the rules recently changed.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I’ll add to this: 5. It will be easier for you to adjust to the financial hit you’ll take going to grad school full time (I am assuming your intention was to leave your current position to go full time, yes?) at this point in your career as opposed to “later” when your student loans are paid off.

      If you are paying extra on loans in order to pay them down more quickly, I would suggest going back to the regular monthly payment and socking the rest in savings. Most student loan agreements will allow you to defer your loans while enrolled in a graduate program. If you can, pay the interest each month (if you can’t, it’s not the end of the world, but it will help). The savings you’ve socked away coupled with not having to make that payment each month should help offset your expenses.

      Good luck!

    3. A grad student*

      Assuming you’re in the US, you aren’t required to make payments on student loans while in graduate school, so hopefully that isn’t a worry you’re having. I know it’s not ideal to have interest add up while adding more principal as well, but as eplawyer said, moving towards your career goals sooner is huge!

      1. JustaTech*

        As long as those loans are subsidised. But yes, this was a huge relief to me when I went to grad school that at least most of my undergrad loans took a break. But the (very small) loan I had directly from my undergrad institution wasn’t one of them, so be sure to check.

        1. Intrepid*

          Quick note: as long as your loans are federal, you don’t have to pay them while you’re in grad school– whether they’re subsidized or not. Where that comes into play is in interest: interest WON’T accrue on your subsidized loans while you’re in school, but it WILL for unsubsidized.

          Also, you won’t get second 6-month grace period for your undergrad loans when you leave grad school.

      2. anonny*

        When I was in graduate school, I put my loans on deferment, but I made a small payment each month, so that the interest did not keep accruing. I think it was between $20-50, and it made me feel a lot less anxious about the loans.

    4. Artemesia*

      don’t go for a PhD without full funding as it is pretty hard to get a job with a PhD and they tend, in academia particularly, to go to people from prestigious programs and those are fully funded. If you have a job in academia sometimes you can keep it or get promoted because of adding a PHD from anywhere, but in making a move that is less so.

      Hang in there — I agree that sometimes moving a boulder is like moving a mountain and kudos for having any success at all with your ridiculous leadership.

      1. Dr. Speakeasy*

        Yes – don’t go to grad school unless you get full funding (if you’re looking at the MA level- check out smaller midsize institutions that need the MA students as TAs – but also ask around at PhD programs you’ll be interested later if they would take students from certain programs or faculty. When I worked at a small regional MA school, we only sent one student on to a PhD program every other year or so but every single one of my advisees that wanted to go on got in to a good program).

        If you do get full funding you should be able to defer your undergrad loans (might not work for private loans though) and get through with limited additional debt. When I went through (about 8 years ago), the only loans I took out were to cover a medical expense. Now… other people in my cohort have 100k+ in students loans but lets just say they had a lot nicer stuff than I did.

        If you don’t get into a good program with good funding… don’t go, do something else.

        1. HighestEd*

          OP, if you enjoy working in Higher Ed, I encourage you to think of doing your Master’s in Higher Education Administration/Leadership/etc (programs have a wide variety of names). There are several benefits to this, such as 1) allowing you to continue working in a general environment you really like, 2) most M.Ed. programs will offer internships and training in a variety of different offices (student services, career development, diversity, athletics, judicial affairs) but when you graduate will allow you to apply for jobs throughout a university’s administration, and 3) many programs will offer tuition waivers and small stipends to people if you agree to a Graduate Placement at the University. My program (University at Buffalo) required students to work 25 hours per week in their placement.

        2. Zillah*

          I get what you’re saying re: PhDs, but I just want to point out that it’s entirely reasonable to do a master’s without full funding.

            1. Dr. Speakeasy*

              Field dependent of course and if you want something more like a terminal MA it may make more sense. However, if the OPs desire is to not take on more debt she should try very hard for a funded program.

        3. The Strand*

          There are a few programs where it’s worth it to pursue a masters’ degree without funding. They’re professional in scope, but not MBAs or JDs. An example would be a Masters in Education (say, in Reading) that would enable a teacher to get a bump in his or her salary, or joining an accounting program prior to taking the CPA exam. A master’s in higher ed administration is another great example.

          Extension programs (e.g. “Certificate in Technical Writing”, “Masters in Construction Management”) might be helpful for a career changer but, can also be a big waste of money. Likewise a LLM degree is not necessary for most graduating lawyers in the US.

          The key is to see whether your course is a profit center, or whether it’s tied to a legitimate department and common expectations for a working professional.

  5. KimberlyR*

    I like updates, even if they aren’t good news.

    OP, please look at all your available options of getting out now, even if “getting out” means going to grad school (because you won’t be in a position to be laid off.) It sounds like you’re going to be even more overworked, and as the most senior in your department, management will (unfairly) blame you. If it means leaving academia or going to school now instead of later, it sounds like your best move is to get out of the place where you are now before you end up getting screwed over.

    Also, good job for standing firm against a ridiculous policy! This is how employees can push back against draconian rules and make a difference.

  6. Annie Moose*

    Mad props to the LW for what you’ve been able to accomplish, given the difficult environment. I’m sure it’s hard when you feel like you’re stuck in the mud and are never going to get out–but you should be proud of the things you HAVE been able to accomplish. And even just for trying. It’s not easy to push back.

    1. Eeyore (aka LW)*

      Thank you, Annie Moose! It’s easy to forget everything that I’ve done since I’ve been here, since there is still so much I want to change to make this place what I know it could be.

  7. Observer*

    Thanks for the update.

    You’ve done a lot of good if you’ve built relationships and made people realize that unpaid overtime is illegal. And, you helped get a ridiculous policy rescinded as well!

    So you can look back on this year as one that has some significant accomplishments.

  8. memyselfandi*

    Don’t assume that you will have to pay for graduate school out of pocket, plus it can be possible to work and go to graduate school at the same time, depending on your field. Look for scholarships, assistantships, both teaching and research, and for loan repayment programs. I told my nephew who was considering a PhD program not to get a PhD unless he was so passionate about the field that he could think of nothing else to do or they paid him to go to school. He told that to his professor (“My aunt told me…”) and his professor got him an assistantship. I am glad that I am very unlikely to meet his professor, but it worked!

    1. Eeyore (aka LW)*

      I have a friend that did that! He was eligible for an assistantship only after his first year (so years 2 and beyond). I’m definitely looking at programs that offer something like that! Since my test scores are in the 70-80 percentiles, I’m hoping something will come up soon!

      1. Honeybee*

        You want to make sure you are funded from Day One. None of this “pay your first year and you’re almost guaranteed a fellowship after that!”

      2. JustaTech*

        Don’t forget scholarships! There are weird, little-advertised scholarships for grad school as well as undergrad. I was amazed by the number I found by looking under any “group” that might apply to me (married student, Scandinavian-American, Mayflower decedent, will work in AIDS research, all kinds of stuff).

    2. blackcat*

      The PhD is a very different beast than a professional masters, though. Funding is more common and the degrees take significantly longer. Doing a PhD unfunded is a terrible idea. That funding may be in the form of what is essentially a full time job (I know some English PhDs with 3-3 teaching loads, aka more than a lot of professors), but it really needs to be there.

      1. Overeducated*

        Even a fully funded phd has large opportunity costs given the time it takes, and often prevents you from saving much for retirement or contributing to social security. (The health insurance and flexible hours can be incredible though…)

        1. Honeybee*

          The health insurance is meh – depends on the institution. And the catch about the flexible hours is that there’s around 60+ of them a week. Sure, you can work them whenever you want – but there are a lot.

          1. blackcat*

            My grad student insurance is the worst. The absolute worst. The company flagrantly violates the law (eg, refusing to cover things explicitly considered preventative care) and you need to make a stink to get them to pay what they are legally obligated to do. They even refused to cover my friends’ post-bike accident ER trip because he didn’t call for pre-authorization. Why didn’t he call? Because his skull was fractured and he was unconscious. He won the fight in the end (he is also fine now), but it was terrible. Overall, the company seems to take the attitude that students are unlikely to challenge a denial of claim, so they just deny most things off the bat, though they randomly approve some stuff (x-ray for suspected broken foot? Okay! x-ray to rule out a broken ankle? DENY).
            Before this, I had awesome health insurance. It was so, so good. I miss my old health insurance.

          2. Tau*

            And flexible hours have their downsides. Post-PhD, I adoremy 9-5(/8-4/10-6) job, because it means I can go home when I’ve put in my eight hours and stop working and think about something else. I know that’s not the case for many other jobs, but I found the PhD really extreme in the form of the hanging cloud of guilt telling you you ought to be working 24/7.

            1. JustaTech*

              This so much! When I worked in an academic lab, more than once I had to tell my boss “I’m not a grad student, I’m not a post doc, I’m going home”.
              Or a friend’s response when I told her that after a crazy-early morning experiment (at my industry lab) my boss had sent us home for the rest of the day. My friend had just finished her PhD and was working an awful post-doc and was visibly shocked that a boss would allow you to go home (after starting at 3am) when your work was done, rather than at 7pm.

              1. almost phd*

                Oh my goodness. I definitely have had days where I do my overnight experiments and then don’t show up to work at all during the day. (Most people I know have PIs who have similar ideas on flexible schedules) But my PI in general doesn’t care what hours we work in the lab, as long as he sees us maybe once a week or so? He’s also pretty hands-off, though, so I really don’t think he KNOWS how much we work and I can’t imagine him allowing us or not allowing us to go home… (Well, I’ve been told to go home specifically after working on an overnight experiment, but generally my hours are no one’s business but mine). We’re sort of tied to the weird lifecycle hours of our organism, though.

                I also definitely work closer to 40 hours than 60 hours most weeks.

  9. One Handed Typist*

    OP – There is a benefit that is quietly mentioned at my university – staff and faculty have a tuition and fee waiver. You may want to check with your Faculty Affairs office (if you are faculty, or HR if you are staff) for guidance on whether there is a graduate school waiver available. I know how you feel about breaking in to academia and not wanting to lose that momentum. If there is a waiver available, you can take advantage and that forward progress may be just enough to break your doldrums.

    I think this year has been quite the year of realizations for you. You’ve had significant accomplishments and are now the Senior member of your team. Is there a possible title change you could get even within the hiring freeze?

    1. Eeyore (aka LW)*

      Although my university does offer that, you have to be here for 4+ years to qualify for a full waiver… at this point. This is one of the benefits that is going away, though. I think I would be grandfathered in if I started this year, but I’m not sure. I’ve asked those starting their programs and it seems to require special permission to get the full waiver.

      On the plus side, I do have a new title! It’s something that I’ve been trying to push for a while, but the only way that my boss felt like it would be fair to those at my level is if we all received title changes. But hey, I’ll take what I can get. :)

  10. NPOQueen*

    OP, I have also worked in a religious educational institution, though nowhere near as strict. I am not sure about your area, but I haven’t found it difficult to get back into academia after leaving. People don’t move in academia, not often anyway. There’s a good chance that someone will remember you even years down the road. I can’t tell you how many interviews I’ve sat in where someone is looking to return, and as long as they leave in good standing, most of them get moved to the top of the hire list.

    If your place of business is toxic and it’s shedding people, you really have to take a look at helping yourself first. You might not want to leave because it is difficult to get your foot in the door, but it looks like they’re willing to slam it in your face, and then you’ll have even fewer options. People move from academic to non-academic jobs all the time, it’s not a death sentence for you. Do what takes best care of you!

    1. Wheezy Weasel*

      I concur, my experience getting back into or transferring between academic institutions was pretty seamless, and that was without a graduate degree. I can’t recall a time where my hiring committees have chosen to rank a person with all non-academic experience higher than a candidate with at least some academic exposure, even in areas such as HR, IT and Facilities.

  11. Venus Supreme*

    I think you’ve done incredible things at your job! It sounds like you’ve had a profound impact at your workplace and now it’s time to take a break from the energy-sucking environment. Job hunting is hard. Take care of yourself. Keep pushing. Everyone here at AAM is rooting for you!!

  12. AFRC*

    Thank you so much for this update and for fighting the good fight! Best of luck with your future plans!!

  13. AMG*

    Thank you for the update! I hope that the new overtime regulations end up benefitting you.

    I’ve been in those jobs where you come home feeling like you’ve been in a fight every day. Hang in there and remember that you are one day closer to being done with the place forever.

  14. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I’m glad for this update! I didn’t see the original letter when it came out, but with an org conservative enough to push such a document, OP would probably have to stop associating with me, written as it was before the change.

    Just because I got a different hormonal “bath” in utero, which affects my brain development and thus made me a lesbian before I was even in diapers.

    (Not to get too OT, but this is my prevailing theory as to cause, since there’s no clear genetic marker for it, a “gay gene” doesn’t seem to work from an evolutionary standpoint, but birth order seems to affect sexual orientation).

    Did OP ever say what religion the college was affiliated with?

    1. Janice in Accounting*

      Yeah, this was so over-reaching. I consider myself pretty religiously conservative, but if my employer forced me to sign a document saying I would not be friends with anyone identifying as LGBTQ, I would nope myself right out of there.

    2. Jeanne*

      I suspect the college is non-denominational. However, it’s not that relevant. There are bad bosses in religious environments as much as non-religious.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I get that- I was just wondering if the religion was LDS, which have gone on record condemning being gay as a sin and having a severe religious stance despite patchy support for other nondiscrimination laws in Utah.

        1. Hibiscus*

          I doubt it is LDS–the ex-Mormons would be all over that. There’s also only the BYUs (Provo, Idaho, Hawaii) so it is easy to keep up on their policy and culture changes.

      2. Amy the Rev*

        Also I love how ‘non-denominational’ CAN mean that it is generic Christian and tries to ensure that any Christian student would feel comfortable in a service, for example, but is more often than not a dog-whistle for “conservative & evangelical” …I grew up in a church that was non-denominational in the original, former sense, and was very confused when I met folks who said they were non-denominational and then spouted some pretty exclusionary ideologies/theologies…

        1. Annie Moose*

          Hmm, I’ve always heard “non-denominational” in the literal sense of “not part of any formal denomination”–so they aren’t Baptists, they aren’t Episcopalians, etc. That’s how my church uses it, anyway. (we ARE fairly conservative, but we–or at least I–don’t intend “non-denominational” to be dog-whistle for that)

          1. Amy the Rev*

            Dog-whistle might not be the right word, also realizing the unintended negative connotation that comes with it. I just meant that in the past several years, I’ve heard less folks (whose theology falls in line with evangelical expressions of christianity) identify AS evangelical and more identify as ‘non-denominational’, to the point where in mainline/liberal religious circles, it’s become a signal of sorts, that if someone says they’re non-denominational, they’re likely conservative/evangelical. I also don’t mean that in a ‘ooh they’re evangelical, avoid them’ kinda way, just that there’s enough overlap between the two descriptors now that it’s become safe to assume that ND implies evangelical/conservative, though not necessarily the other way around, since plenty of evangelical churches belong to established denominations.

          2. Honeybee*

            I know of two “non-denominational” churches that subscribe to Amy the Rev’s second definition. In both cases, I simply think neither church wanted to be beholden to the rules/regulations/guidelines of a specific denomination or convention. But they borrow most of their tenets from a particular one with a really heavy dash of evangelical and conservative.

        2. S. Ninja*

          Yeah, likewise- I went to a “nondenominational” private high school that was strongly Southern Baptist in practice.

        3. Lissa*

          Huh, I never knew that non-denominational could mean really conservative/evangelical! i always thought the opposite.

  15. Eeyore (aka LW)*

    Hey everyone,
    Thank you all for being so encouraging! I really do appreciate it! Things are just about the same as when I sent Alison my update. It has been difficult because people who started after I did stayed for about 6 months and said, “Heck no!” and walked off the job…literally. We’ve had two people quit without notice, which has put everyone in a bind. All of our staff are working multiple positions and raises/promotions are on hold.

    But I do have some good news – I’ve had 3 interviews this week and an offer for a fully funded grad program. I’m really hoping one of the jobs in particular works out because they’ll pay for both my master’s and doctorate (if I decide to go that far). Here’s to hoping!

    1. CM*

      That’s good to hear. And even if you end up staying, you’re definitely fighting the good fight. Nothing will ever get better without people like you who are willing to spend their political capital and stand up against mistreatment.

  16. No name for this one!*

    I wasn’t around for the original letter, but I really believe that our country needs to get rid of all exemptions for religious reasons. I don’t think workplaces should have to give the day off solely for religious observations, I think religious institutions should pay taxes and provide insurance coverage for birth control, and I don’t think religious schools or colleges should be able to demand that all their employees are of the same religion. Religion would still be a protected class for the EEOC, just like gender, color, etc.

    I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me and that’s okay. It’s just how I have come to feel more strongly about every year.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s an interesting topic. As a society, we’ve decided to privilege religious faith differently than other things, but there’s a legitimate question about whether and why that makes sense.

      1. LBK*

        Yes – it’s odd that it’s equated to other protections based on intrinsic qualities that do not carry belief systems with them. When we protect someone based on their race, gender, etc that only protects them from the actions of others; when we protect someone’s religion, it also protects their own actions. It’s kind of a weird false equivalence that religion gets lumped in with the other categories.

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        To be a bit of a pedant, we’ve given privilege to “organized” religious faith, and it has to be organized in a way acceptable to the State even though there is an awful lot of leeway for tax purposes.

        Completely tangential example about organization: I go to Quaker Meeting and the way our state recognizes a religious institution is actually in contradiction to our Faith and Practice for governance. So, we have this weird Trustees committee that doesn’t exist in our F&P and that ends up being a committee useful for people stirring the pot and committee-shopping if they are looking for a particular outcome and the Meeting For Worship with a Concern for Property/Education/Pastoral Care/Homeless Shelter/etc., etc. doesn’t give them what they want. When I was on Property Committee, I derailed a Meeting by asking why we held property at all given Matthew 18:20.


        1. LBK*

          To be a counter-pedant, it depends on which privileges we’re talking about :) EEOC protections are much looser and actually explicitly state that it doesn’t have to be a recognized, organized religion in order to be protected.

        2. Annie Moose*

          For some bizarre reason that I don’t understand, my church is organized as some sort of… corporation thing? It’s kinda similar in that the way the state expects our leadership to be organized is VERY different from how we’re actually organized–we have to have, like, a president and vice-president and so on, but in reality, we just have elders/overseers/whatever-you-want-to-call-them that aren’t in a hierarchy.

          In our case, though, nobody actually cares about it. We actually realized a few years ago that someone was listed on the official paperwork as being secretary (or something)… except that person had been dead for about five years! Had to quickly go get that one fixed up…

          1. QA Lady*

            My father found out when his church was refinancing its mortgage that he technically ‘owned’ the church… as one of the elders back ing the early 90s he was a trustee, and when this refinancing happened he was the only trustee still living…

      3. Student*

        In many regards, the religious exemption is elevated significantly above protections afforded for gender, race, disability, etc.

        You can have a for-profit company with no religious purpose with an owner who has a religion, and that owner can impose elements of his religion on employees in contravention of general federal law that impacts them substantially outside their employment duties and hours (Hobby Lobby contraception coverage insurance exemption).

        By comparison, women can still be legally fired under certain circumstances for getting pregnant (Young vs. United Parcel Service).

        1. KG, Ph.D.*

          To be fair, I think you can also cast both the Hobby Lobby and UPS examples in terms of “corporations are afforded more rights than workers,” which is one way in which our laws are devastatingly consistent.

    2. blackcat*

      I view many religious accommodations (at least days off) similar to those for things like disabilities. If someone is able to get intermittent FLMA to go to physical therapy 2x per month, I see no reason why a Jewish employee shouldn’t be allowed to take holidays off. It seems, essentially like the same thing. Neither is a “choice” the way it’s commonly defined by the law. One could argue that religion is a choice, but it seems that we, as a society, treat it in a similar way as things that people have no choice in (eg gender, race).
      But, like Alison, I view the question of why we do (and if we should) treat religion differently from gender/sex/race/disability in the workplace an interesting one.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        And I agree with the religious accommodation for individuals, but the religious institution privilege thing seems too much like the results of the Citizens United case where now corporations get claim personhood for the purpose of bankrolling political campaigns.

      2. Mononymous*

        I totally agree with the individual’s rights to take time off for religious observance, but I don’t love the way traditionally Christian holidays are codified into public holiday dates (i.e. default days off work at the vast majority of companies/bank and post office closures) in a way that important dates for other religions aren’t.

        And then you get things like public hospitals that are affiliated with the Catholic church and thus get to meddle in the healthcare choices that people are offered and provided on religious grounds, which…just NO.

        1. blackcat*

          Oh, yeah, I REALLY don’t like how religious hospitals can restrict the care they give, particularly given how many of those hospitals are in areas where they’re the only game in town.

          A friend of mine had to wait until she was *actually suffering from sepsis* to get a treatment after a missed miscarriage. Even though there was no heartbeat and the fetus had stopped growing for nearly 4 weeks, her local catholic hospital wouldn’t allow a D&C until her life was in danger. They kept saying that they could induce labor (dangerous for her b/c other medical conditions), do a c-section (aka major surgery, and she was only like 8 or 9 weeks along), or she could wait. Waiting did not work out well.

          So yeah, there’s definitely a middle ground. I think the line is somewhere around protecting an individuals observance but not allowing organizations whose primary role isn’t religious (like most hospitals, colleges*, etc) the right to discriminate or otherwise take actions that impose their beliefs on others.

          *By “college” here I mean an institution that primarily issues regular old degrees. An institution that is primarily something like a seminary is the same thing as a church to me. But regular large universities that don’t dispense birth control get the side eye from me (I’m not even talking about very religious large schools like Liberty, but mostly secular schools like Notre Dame).

          1. Mononymous*

            I am so, so sorry that your friend had to experience that. Stories like this make me want to RAGE SMASH, but to avoid getting into the weeds with political talk, I’ll leave it here: your friend deserved better. I hope she’s doing well now.

          2. twig*

            Something similar happened to a coworkers wife at a catholic hospital. They had to wait for permission from the diocese before they could perform the D&C . She was already suffering from sepsis and her life was in danger.

        2. Mints*

          Yeah, I really wish hospitals weren’t allowed to do this. I’m in a Leftist area but I find it kind of terrifying that medical decisions can be made for women based on a religion they’re not a part of.

          Also, I dislike that private corporations get this protection (Hobby Lobby). I’m okay with churches getting some benefits, but I really don’t want them meddling in hospitals.

          1. The Strand*

            Even in a leftist area, the concern happens when a religious hospital and a secular hospital merge together, and the religious hospital’s methods overrule whatever the secular hospital had been doing.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          That last one really chaps my britches. And here’s the stupid part. There are two health systems in my city–one is religious and the other isn’t, but the non-religious one has followed the lead on some stuff the religious one does. That means, if you need a D&C, like say after a miscarriage, YOU CANNOT GET ONE HERE. I have this straight from a friend whose spouse is a doctor. You would have to drive (I’m guessing) to one of the larger cities, which are both three hours away.

          I desperately want to get out of here. I don’t want my tax dollars paying for anything here anymore. D:<

          1. Mononymous*

            What the actual… UGH small towns.

            I was actually shocked that when I lived in a small (pop. ~10k) town and asked for a referral to a surgeon for a tubal ligation, as a single, mid-20s non-mother, my doctor actually gave one. (I have a chronic autoimmune illness and we had determined I can’t take hormonal BC ever again, so there were extenuating circumstances, but still.) As a competent adult, I feel I should never have to question that my decisions about my own medical health will be honored.

    3. Amy the Rev*

      I also have a conflicted relationship with tax-exemption for churches, especially since the trade-off is that we aren’t allowed to make ‘political speech’, AND especially because I come from a tradition that really upholds civil disobedience/social justice/speaking truth to power. To use dramatic language, it feels like we’re being subsidized by the Empire to essentially muzzle ourselves and get out of its way. I get WHY that’s the case/tax code, but it doesn’t always sit well. I feel like we should have to *earn* our tax exemption somehow, by providing some sort of service to the wider community regardless of religion (like building use for civic groups/soup kitchen/etc, or offering various pro-bono legal/plumbing/electric services, etc – whatever the folks in the congregation are skilled in)…like how being an intern chaplain qualifies for work-study funding if you are visiting all patients regardless of religious affiliation, and aren’t trying to promote any one religion while doing so.

      As to workplaces, I can see how these laws both in their origin reflect a christian-centric workforce/labor movement, and yet currently serve in private businesses to protect those from religious traditions more likely to be marginalized/discriminated against in a christian-centric culture, but I think that if it’s any kind of government employer, allowing time off for religious observance seems pretty straightforward 1st amendment to me.

      1. LBK*

        I feel like we should have to *earn* our tax exemption somehow, by providing some sort of service to the wider community regardless of religion (like building use for civic groups/soup kitchen/etc, or offering various pro-bono legal/plumbing/electric services, etc – whatever the folks in the congregation are skilled in).

        So more or less the same way any other non-profit earns their exemption.

        I find the “political speech” element of it to be particularly weird because Christianity seems to do just fine having a heavy hand in our government and lawmaking despite churches themselves being unable to participate directly in the process. If the goal was to ensure separation of church and state, that seems to have failed.

          1. Amy the Rev*

            Same!! I spent a summer working at an interfaith org in the UK, and was surprised (then, at least, not sure what the climate is like now) how LITTLE religion was brought up in politics (either offhandedly or as justification for a policy), despite there still being a state church, so to speak, and yet how MUCH religious literacy was stressed in education, with world religion/ethics/philosophy being a mandated part of the school curriculum. Seems like the opposite of the US…sigh.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Interesting stuff here.

          Used to be churches did a lot more social work and were a lot more supportive of individual needs in the community. What I am seeing here is that when the government programs stop helping people, government people call the NPOs such as churches to help people with heat/food/clothes. Churches can be the last resort in some situations, a bit reverse of what used to be.

          I do agree that churches should contribute to the betterment of the community which houses them.

        1. Amy the Rev*

          Absolutely! I’m also aware, however, of the ways in which religion can be exploited to manipulate folks’ political opinions, which is why I have a complicated relationship with the idea instead of being 100% opposed. From what I understand, any 501 c3 organization, religious or not, has to refrain from making anything that could be construed as ‘political speech’…And there are definitely ways to say what you want to say without officially *saying* it, but the tax-exemption in exchange for political neutrality in the pulpit still feels a little icky, like we’re accepting hush money.

          The IRS already audited my denomination because someone unaffiliated with the UCC held an Obama sign outside of a 2007 event where he was the keynote speaker (he didn’t even mention his candidacy at all in the speech, it was more about how it is indeed possible to be a christian in leadership and vehemently uphold the separation of church and state), I’m a little nervous about how things will go in the next 4-8 years, given the proclivity of a certain orangey human to react very strongly to criticism, perceived or actual.

          1. paul*

            That is incorrect; you can’t use a “substantial” part of your funds/resources for lobbying but you can emphatically do some lobbying. My boss met with our state rep a few weeks ago to argue for increased housing funding (not bleeding likely, we’re in Tea Party Hell).

            1. Amy the Rev*

              Ah yeah might be different for churches- for us, ‘political speech’ generally means advocating for/against a specific candidate (or sometimes ballot measure). Maybe its the same for non-profits, since there are plenty in my city that (laudably) advocate for issues that fall squarely on one side of the political aisle. Sorry you’re in TP Hell- I’ll send some Boston Bleeding Heart vibes your way!

              1. nerdgal*

                I am the president of a small non-profit. We can do “issue advocacy” all we want. For example, asking people to vote for a bond issue that affects us, or lobbying the legislature for funding or regulatory changes. We just can’t support a candidate or party. And the advocacy has to be directly related to our mission.

      2. Jenbug*

        I feel like we should have to *earn* our tax exemption somehow, by providing some sort of service to the wider community regardless of religion (like building use for civic groups/soup kitchen/etc, or offering various pro-bono legal/plumbing/electric services, etc

        My assumption is that the reason churches are codified as tax exempt is because they have historically provided those services to the community. I’m not saying they all necessarily do/have or if that’s the right thing, but that was my initial thought when I read the comment you replied to.

        1. LBK*

          My understanding is that it’s founded on the premise of separation of church and state and the principle of no taxation without representation. Because we deny the church representation under the guise of the former, we therefore exempt them from paying taxes in order to comply with the latter. But this is just what I’ve picked up from other conversations about the subject and not based on any personal historical or legal research, so take it with a grain of salt.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          There are some churches that actually agree. I hear of churches estimating what their taxes would have been and paying that amount. Remarkably they have some people who are very, very good at estimating the amount, too.

      3. Student*

        You aren’t obligated to take the tax exemption. It’s opt-in, like all tax benefits, there’s no law requiring religions to get a tax break no matter what. Your local church can decide to give it up in exchange for the ability to give political speeches.

        The vast majority of churches go for the tax exemption because it is huge financial savings on property tax, and not-insignificant savings on sales tax, etc. that cover normal church activities and needs.

        As an atheist, I would rather all y’all paid taxes to support the community, and talk about whatever politics you like, too.

        As a federal contractor who’s restricted from some political activities in business and in my personal actions, I think anybody who gets a large chunk of business-related funding from the government (like religious organizations, federal contractors, public institutions ) should be restricted from political acts because of the very real risk of the tail wagging the dog – “give me more funding or I will tank your re-election”. There’s room for nuance on the scope of reasonable restrictions.

      4. MonsterMaker*

        Churches make political speech all the time and discriminate against other people because of their “religious right” to oppress those who hold opposing views. The issue is that religion is still used to oppress people, even in the workplace and that’s just cruel, at least to women just trying to find work. Even private companies can force women to subsidize men’s health while denying them access to healthcare. 30 clinics in Texas now can’t help women in impoverished areas thanks to religious political speech by old men. Not to mention the fact that christians in general are demanding we march back in time just for women’s health and rights. The churches have infiltrated the government with their own religious leaders and the backlash will be significant.

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      I’m with ya 100% (especially with regard to paying taxes) but I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.

    5. MonsterMaker*

      We don’t just need to get rid of religious exemptions but all exemptions because it shows favoritism and that’s unacceptable at the federal and state levels in a country were opportunity is touted as equal when it never has been.

      I had to deal with Baptist monsters in Texas who stressed out an employee and waved a gun in her face that she miscarried – but the police refused to arrest them. They’re still in business and they have a horrible reputation as well. They too, demanded employees work for free, denied days off, refused to pay for hours worked, and the EEOC told me that unless the company employed more than 14 people AND made more than one million dollars gross it didn’t matter that I recorded these monsters threatening to kill an employee.

      They set up their 501c (3) tax haven and are still working today while the company has a high turnover rate.

      At the very least, the EEOC shouldn’t be denying access to legal aid because the employee on the phone has an issue with “devil-worshiping non-christians”. People who aren’t christians, such as myself, am fed up with this state and federal sanctioned abuse and it has narrowed my field of employment considerably.

  17. paul*

    You did what you set out to do; you stopped a really, really bad idea your employer had from being pushed to completion. That’s a good thing. Don’t knock yourself that it wasn’t perfect.

    You said you’d still experienced high turnover; is that just fallout from the initial letter (which seems to have died a well deserved death) or is it due to other problems in the workplace? In either case, it’s not because you didn’t do enough about the original problem at all. I have to confess, if my employer tried that–even to rescind it later–I’d probably be inclined to start seriously job searching myself.

    1. Eeyore (aka LW)*

      We initially lost a lot of people right off the bat due to the new policy. I think once people realized their community was leaving, they started looking too. We also don’t really fire anyone here except in extreme circumstances, which has lead to several “lifer” and bully employees staying. I know one of my newish supervisors rotates who she is going to throw under the bus each week. No one will talk to her about how inappropriate her behavior is, partially because she’s been here almost 20 years. Needless to say, there are other problems here that have caused a lot of really good staff and faculty to leave.

  18. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    You didn’t LOSE your political capital, you SPENT it. That’s what it’s there for. You used it on something meaningful. Well done, you.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I just realized that this reads a little snotty. I don’t mean that at all — I mean to congratulate you (and thank you, on behalf of your coworkers and others affected by similar crazy rules) for spending your hard-earned capital on something that matters. You rock.

      1. Jeanne*

        I didn’t read it as snotty. You are right that the political capital wasn’t thrown away. It was used to try to help herself and others.

    2. paul*

      Yep. You can’t hoard it forever, then it does no good. Learning when it’s worth it to call in your markers is tricky but definitely worth it (I’m still struggling with it myself). This sounds like it was certainly worthwhile

      1. Artemesia*

        As we are seeing in the current political sphere you don’t lose clout when you use it, sometimes you gain clout when you successfully use it.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I think this is an important point. To stretch the financial metaphor a bit, sometimes you end up “investing” your capital and growing more of it, rather than just spending it down. I don’t have enough political skill to recognize opportunities for this, but I suspect that it’s something that the most effective leaders are good at.

          1. paul*

            i’m still working on not shooting myself in the foot with political capital, let alone actually cultivating it.

    3. LBK*

      Well put! The whole idea of political capital is people doing things for you because of your reputation and standing that they might not want to do normally. In this case, that might mean supervisors gritting their teeth while you shake things up, whereas they might bring down the hammer on someone with less capital. Of course, once it’s spent, you might have to lay low for a while until you can build it back up again.

    4. Eeyore (aka LW)*

      I didn’t think about it that way (and I definitely didn’t think it was snotty). Thank you, Victoria! I guess I felt that way because there is still so much change that needs to happen that I can’t tackle right now.

      1. Eeyore (aka LW)*

        And thank you everyone else! :) I hope no one can ever say I didn’t try to stick up for others and make good changes!

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Additionally, you did not “lose” your political capital, you transferred it to actual power.

      You have gone from “that nice Eeyore” who helps people and does the job to “Eeyore, mover and shaker”. These things shift. It’s subtle and gradual but what happens is TPTB, start saying to each other, “better get Eeyore’s buy-in here” or “better go see what Eeyore thinks will fly here”. One of the ways that you will know this is happening is that people will keep bringing you more and more problems. The reason? Brace yourself. Because they think you CAN handle it. Where you feel beaten and overwhelmed they see someone who “gets it” and who they can “actually talk with”.

      FWIW, many heroes feel defeated, overwhelmed and ready to quit. This is pretty normal. Want proof? Go down and talk to the people at your local fire department or police department. Go talk to people who have been in the service. Talk to a person with disability who shows up for work every day in spite of encumbrances. What makes a person heroic is their choice to continue working at things despite the (sometimes overwhelming) odds against them. It’s hard and very seldom feels rewarding.

  19. INTP*

    OP, you have used your political capital at work for things that benefit other people and reduce injustice in your workplace, and that is INCREDIBLY commendable. Most people are afraid or unwilling to lose capital over these things. You might not have much left, but you’ve used it for good, so there is nothing to feel bad or apologize for!

  20. animaniactoo*

    LW, sometimes the change is in what *didn’t* happen. So, for instance, if they had tried to proceed with the original policy they might have had 80% or better on turnover. In which case, you spent your political capital on preserving 15%. That’s not nothing. That’s what you can do when you’ve got a 20% off coupon, a $2000 budget, and you have to furnish a living room from a store that sells $5000+ sofas.

    Best of luck to you – I suspect that the university will go through a lot more attrition before they realize their policies are more damaging than they are beneficial, or they will close down completely because they’re not interested in running their org any other way. At that point, the only question is whether they realize that their model is unsustainable before they run out of money and are forced to close due to a lack of funding rather than a considered choice about whether their goals are compatible with the kind of establishment they are trying to run.

  21. Chaordic One*

    This has been a truly inspirational update, not just from Eeyore, but also the many thoughtful comments. I’m particularly impressed by the insightful comment from Victoria Nonprofit (USA) about spending your capital and the direction (positive) the comments have taken following it.

    What an amazing group of commenters.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Doing the right thing does not always feel rewarding. We read stories about people doing the right thing, such as running into burning buildings and pulling people out.

      A real life example: “Yeah, we got the people out. The fire did not spread to other buildings. But we failed because the building burned down.”


      People who work hard are always pushing for things to be better. It’s easy for me as a non-firefighter to say the team did a heck of a job on that fire. The people working in the situation, not so much. Keep a sense of proportion, OP.

  22. Alice*

    Bravo Eyeore for both updates. With the sensitivity and thoughtfulness you’ve demonstrated, I’m sure you’ll continue to be successful in academic administration after your next degree – but probably in a much better working culture! 0

  23. Julia*

    Sorry I didn’t see these articles until now.
    I just wanted to say what the OP’s employer tried to do is more than outrageous. It’s fascist.
    I grew up in a fundamentalist town and moved to a big city as soon as I was old enough.
    I never understood what was wrong with the fundamentalists. I just ran.
    Now, decades later, I discovered a book that explains everything about them. It’s called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges.
    This book means so much to me! It answers all my questions and all the things I wondered about.
    Fascism is all about control. Controlling what people do, what they think, and what they believe. The OP’s employer was trying to extend its reach on this. (BTW, this has nothing to do with God…)
    It’s also very disturbing that in the original article several commenters who work for churches said their employers mandate healthy family relationships.
    So disrespectful! Employees are grown people who should be allowed to manage their relationships in whatever way they think best!!!
    I noticed this disrespect growing up, and it’s beyond offensive. It’s also one of the roots of the big problems in this country!
    I don’t understand why anyone would stay with such a disrespectful employer.
    Anyway, I just wanted to mention the fascism. The book is at the library – I hope, unless your library is fascist. The more people who understand this is fascism, not religion, the better chance our country has. Good luck!

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