Faith Matters: Standing for the Freedom to Unite Faith and Private Business
Let me begin with a remarkable example of how faith matters in a private business. I’m speaking of Voss Lighting, a very successful company that was established in 1939. According to their website, they are “…one of the nation’s leading suppliers of specialized replacement lighting products, with offices in 15 key cities across the United States.”[i] Besides providing exceptional service in the lighting industry, they have a higher goal than just selling lighting products. Their mission statement, found on their website, reads: “Our goal is to ‘sell’ our lighting products so that we may ‘tell’ everyone we can about God’s soul-saving-life-transforming gospel message as Jesus instructed believers to do.”[ii]
I cannot see any harm in a group of like-minded people partnering together in a private business with this goal. They are simply seeking to live out in their everyday lives what their faith instructs them to do. No one is forced by the government to either work for or to engage in commerce with a business such as Voss Lighting. Therefore, no one’s Constitutional religious freedom is violated. However, in 2013, due to the religious component of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voss Lighting paid $82,500 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. (See *Note below)
I am in total agreement with the current Republican Party Platform where under the heading The First Amendment: Religious Liberty, it states, “We support the right of the people to conduct their businesses in accordance with their religious beliefs.”[iii] Unfortunately, in Workplace Freedom for a 21st Century Workforce of the Platform and specified under the heading We the People, I believe there is contradiction; the RNC seems to be supporting the very regulation that seeks to take away the rights they profess to defend regarding religious liberty. You will not get any such contradiction with me. I fully support the right of the people to conduct their businesses in accordance with their religious beliefs and I fully stand to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in such a way that the religious component is rescinded, thus restoring this fundamental right.
*Note: This does not automatically mean that due to religious reasons, Voss Lighting passed over an otherwise more qualified applicant for the job in this case. All it takes to make a claim to the EEOC is an applicant thinking they have been discriminated against by an employer due to their religious beliefs and practices. In many cases, it is easier for the employer to settle rather than pay an attorney to defend them in court.
The original purpose of the religious component of Title VII was to give religious minorities more access to the workforce and thus forbid discrimination based on religion in hiring practice for a business with 15 or more employees. In my view, the glaring truth about the foolishness of adding the religious component to Title VII is that, unlike its other components of race, skin color, national origin and gender, religion is a choice people make. Furthermore, different religions teach different things; therefore, all religions are not equal in producing moral character. Since it is impossible to bring faith into a business without having a bias toward a particular one, the essential message sent by the federal government to employers is, “leave your faith at home” when it comes to whom you will hire. Yet whom an employer hires is one of the most critical elements to the success of his or her business.
In our modern world, I am not opposed to the many ways that the federal government may need to protect us. Yet, to protect us from a business such as Voss Lighting, in my opinion, is absurd. Though most religions try to promote goodwill, they can be vastly different in their means of attaining or promoting it. For example, in the Christian faith, it is taught that transformation occurs as God’s love is understood in the death of Jesus for unworthy sinners. The government does not currently deprive us of the freedom to consider differences in religious belief when choosing whom we will marry, with whom we will worship, or with whom we will partner in a private educational or institutional setting. Neither should the government take away the freedom of a private employer to seek out and to hire like-minded people. That process should be up to the employer; it will be different for each as they are free to determine the level of “inclusiveness” they desire to have when it comes to matters of faith.
The religious component of Title VII essentially modifies the concept of “separation of church and state,” set forth in the First Amendment, into some form of “separation between faith and private business.” It tries to turn “freedom of religion” into “freedom from religion” in the place where we spend most of our time, that is, the workplace. I believe this has been fundamentally bad for America and it is not in accordance with the religious freedom the framers of our Constitution envisioned.
What is stated on the EEOC website regarding the Voss Lighting case by EEOC Regional Attorney Barbara A. Seely actually strengthens my position. In reference to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, she states, “The level of intolerance demonstrated by Voss Lighting is inconsistent with the values of the free and diverse society embodied in these laws.”[iv] In my understanding, a free society is one where people can bring their faith into the workplace without restrictive government regulations. A diverse society is where one business may use the traditional fish or a cross as a symbol of a Christian business, another business may use the Star of David or a Menorah, and another may use the symbol of whatever set of beliefs it wants to represent, obviously within reasonable parameters in order to keep our nation safe. Of course, it also means that a business may have no religious identity at all. In my opinion, using federal regulations and their consequential threat of legal action to essentially make all businesses fit into a “no religious identity at all” model is as far from freedom and diversity as one can get.
In what I am proposing, and in due time, the “proof will be in the pudding” as to the effectiveness of a particular religion, on display for everyone to see. That is how things are supposed to work in the “land of the free.” Would you consider standing with me to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act so that the religious component is rescinded and our fundamental freedom of religion is restored? Also, please read “A Beautiful Story” on this website where you can glimpse the impact made as I incorporated my faith in the small business I operated.