Restoring the Freedom to Unite Faith and Private Business
“The EEOC is optimistic that the corporate-wide remedial actions agreed to by Voss Lighting will put an end to the role religion plays in its decisions affecting applicants and employees. If not, we will be back in court again.”[i]
These were the words of Barbara Seely, an attorney with the agency of the federal government known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), regarding a 2013 lawsuit filed against Voss Lighting, a longstanding and successful Christian business. The suit was based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where religion is listed as one of the five categories an employer with 15 or more employees cannot consider when making hiring decisions.
Voss Lighting is a business whose seeks to “do all for the glory of God” and whose goal is to sell their lighting products so they can tell about “God’s soul-saving-life-transforming gospel message as Jesus instructed believers to do.”[ii] Voss has been around for 80 years and is a leader in the lighting industry with hubs in 15 cities across America.
What happened to Voss Lighting is a prime example of where I believe we have foundationally gone astray as a nation. We have never been a nation that was solely Christian; our founding fathers were however guided by Judeo-Christian principles and envisioned a nation where people of faith could freely flourish. In Voss Lighting we have an example of a Christian business that was flourishing while at the same time seeking to maintain a business culture where people are mutually encouraged to share what many of us believe is the best news in the history of the world. Yet the policies implemented in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enable the federal government to reach so far as to punish private businesses like Voss and try to restrict their freedom.
We have now had 57 years to see the results of this overreach of the federal government. Instead of achieving the “Great Society” that President Lyndon B. Johnson envisioned we now have 30 trillion dollars in debt, a weakened workforce, and rampant moral degradation.
Regulating “Interstate Commerce” is a power given to Congress to ensure fair trade between the states, but I believe that the founders of our nation would roll over in their graves if they knew that this Congressional power would be used to regulate what private employers can consider when making hiring decisions that they believe are best for their businesses. I will be first to call it morally reprehensible for an employer to use “religion” as a pretense to show disfavor to someone simply due to the color of their skin, as was done in the Jim Crow era. However, for the sake of freedom, there are a lot of things I believe to be morally reprehensible that the federal government should not regulate.
Over time we have witnessed a basic principle of freedom come into play. Inevitably. when the government seeks to reach so far in legislating against immorality, what you believe to be moral will also regulated against. In my opinion, Voss Lighting is a case in point of this. They are a group of like-minded people who simply want to work in a business together with a higher purpose than just making money. I certainly do not see anything immoral about that. In my opinion, they should be applauded rather than punished. I believe that our founding fathers’ knowledge of history gave them the wisdom to understand this basic principle of freedom. In simple terms, we “keep the bathwater” to ensure “we don’t throw out the baby.”
The liberals have done an exceptional job of making a law and then changing the meaning of a word in our culture to make it difficult to rescind or amend the law. Such is the case with the word “discrimination” and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Our modern culture would have us associate the word “discrimination” with hatred or bigotry. However, legally, the word means “to make a difference in treatment or favor (of one as compared with others)” as set forth by Justice Neil Gorsuch in writing the majority opinion for the 2020 landmark Supreme Court Case Bostock v. Clayton County.[iii] With that definition, the Christian faith teaches discrimination based on religion. The apostle Paul writes, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6: 10). This does not mean hatred or bigotry since it says, “do good to all people,” but similar to President Trump’s America First policy, the verse does teach prioritizing “faith-family first.”
Just as Voss Lighting emphasizes Christian “evangelism” of the people they interact with as they go about their business, I emphasized Christian “discipleship” of employees in the business I founded and operated for 14 years. While working in urban youth ministry, I saw that young men who typically came from homes without a father and were high school dropouts either couldn’t get a job or couldn’t retain them once they received them. I restructured an already existing business with the goal of helping them learn to be successful in the workforce. Due to the fact that good moral character is of vital importance to enduring success in a job and my belief that faith is the very foundation of moral character, I used mentorship in the Christian faith alongside training in the technical aspects of the job as part of my overall development strategy.
I can’t speak for Voss but showing favor to my “faith family” first when hiring is what I did. I hired people outside of my faith but in order to have a successful business that would be around to help anyone, I unapologetically gave preference to those who were willing to submit to the development strategy I believed would best benefit them and thus best benefit my business. Was there something immoral about that? Having a business in Atlanta where my customer base was with a wide variety of people, what my business accomplished was highly respected across the moral spectrum. However, it would have been illegal if I would have had 15 or more employees though I believe I accomplished the primary goal of the Civil Rights Movement.
The economic success I achieved in my business can’t even begin to compare with that of a large and longstanding company such as Voss Lighting, but like them, my business was indeed successful and stayed in high demand. I do believe a business that affirms a higher purpose than making money will yield a culture more engaged in the business, inherently working harder and more diligently. The finding of world-renown business consultant Lisa McLeod supports this thought. The McLeod and More website claims “that organizations with purpose bigger than money outperform their competition by over 350%.”[iv]
Furthermore, I believe that in the long run, someone who demonstrates a desire to grow in his or her faith will be a better asset to a business than someone who may have been otherwise more qualified for the job in the beginning. In keeping with the Bible verse that says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” and the verse that says, “God chose the weak things in the world to shame the strong,” I experienced these truths as I watched an employee less gifted than another in the technical skills of the job eventually emerge as the more valuable employee. It was a win-win-win situation. I needed help and the person I hired was teachable and willing to grow; he needed someone to believe in him and give him a chance, and our society has benefitted as he better fulfilled his potential.
It is important to understand that Title VII does not only apply to businesses that outwardly claim to have a religious mission. What happened to Voss Lighting sends a message to all faith-based employers who understand the importance of humility and thus in an attempt to hire the best person, they want to know as much about an applicant as possible, including their faith journey. The message currently dictated by the federal government is to keep your faith at home when it comes to whom you will hire, or you may be punished.
In summary, if a wise contractor observes a home that is falling apart, they will inspect the foundation. If the foundation is in disrepair, all other repairs will be essentially meaningless until the foundation is repaired. I believe that trying to turn the “freedom for religion” that our nation was founded upon into a great amount of “freedom from religion” in our everyday lives, as was done by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has been foundationally bad for our nation. Also, the scope of Title VII officially increased as the gender component now includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (2020 Supreme Court Case, Bostock v. Clayton County). If we want to see our nation turned around, I believe a great place to start is restoring the freedom to unite faith and private business, especially in hiring decisions, without hindrance from the federal government.
Please stand with me to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act so that it does not apply to private businesses of any size. Rescinding federal regulations does not mean that state and local governments cannot enact “non-discrimination” policies for businesses within their jurisdiction but are tailored to the values of the people in that jurisdiction. Furthermore, for those employers who would use this restored freedom for an [v]immoral purpose, “we the people” still retain the right to employ our freedom of speech to expose them and encourage people not to patronize them. For those who use their freedoms for good, I believe their success will be on display for others to freely emulate. That is how things are supposed to work in the “land of the free.”