Four days ago, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against a Wisconsin company that fired 7 Muslim employees for taking unscheduled time to pray. They were observing the teachings of their religion. They were practicing their faith as enshrined in the constitution of the United States. Yet they lost their job – their means of livelihood – consequently. Why?
On hearing the news, the first thought that may prop up the mind of an average Joe is that the discriminatory white employers is at it again. They hate Muslims. They are intolerant of the Muslim faith. And of course they hate those who do not look like them. So they fired them.
But are any of these probable claims factual in this context?
First, if the employers hated these Muslim employees, they wouldn’t have hired them in the first place.
But that is not the crux of the matter. The issue here is about an individual’s right to practice his or her religion as he or she deems fit at his or her place of work.
When an employer hires you, depending on your role at the organization, you can either have a one-time one-hour lunch break for every single day you walk through the front doors of the company. And the rest of your time at the company for that day will be dedicated to doing the business of your employer. Or for some who work at a high demand manufacturing environment, you can have a one-hour or 90 minutes allotted break time which can be broken down to 3 or less number of breaks (at the discretion of your supervisor) to give you time to rejuvenate yourself for optimum performance.
Now your break time, be it a one-off one hour lunch break, or a 90 minutes multiple break times, are yours to use for whatever personal use you deem fit. You can go on a date with it. You can pray to God with it. You can be on your phone for the duration of your break. Or just like me, you can go to the breakroom and seek out folks who do not work in your department and you know, network with them. You can put to any personal and private use your entitled break time for each day you go to work. It is your own. But once your break time is over, the rest of your time belongs to your employer who is actually paying you for those times. Whether your religion demands that you pray seven times a day or not.
I have come to realize in life that GOD is omnipresent – meaning that GOD is everywhere at every time. And you do not need any religious symbolism such as kneeling down or prostrating on the floor to effectively communicate with him. He already knows our thoughts and He dwells in our hearts. So we can effectively pray to GOD through our spirits silently without the person standing next to us knowing that we are praying. Hence a Muslim whose religious duty requires him to pray 5 times daily can actually do that without reneging on his employment contracts.
The American Civil Liberties Union is an organization that seeks to defend the civil liberties of mostly minority groups whose liberties are prone to abuse. And in the history of this great nation, they have been doing a pretty good job at it. But in this case, they are wrong and run the risk of diminishing the significance of their role in civil society. An employee in any organization does not have any right whatsoever to carve out for him/herself extra time beyond the allotted official break hours for prayers without the explicit authorization of their employer. When an employee signs up to work for an organization for whatever hours per week he or she signed up for, he or she is saying in effect that for those hours he or she will be at the facility doing the business of the employer. Solely. And will receive an agreed-upon payment for those hours spent working for the employer. Your religious liberties and the practice thereof while you are on the clock of your employer are limited ONLY to the time allotted to you for your break. At the time you are on the clock of your employer, your religious liberties are not paying for your wages. Your employer is. And you are to be productive for your employer for those paid hours. If you are manning a critical machine in a production line while production is on-going, you cannot abandon it and incur damages and losses for your employer because you want to practice your religion. And by the way your place of employment is a place of CONSTANT WORK AND PRODUCTIVITY, besides your break time, and not a religious ground. I have never heard about a place where people are paid to observe their religious rites while the company runs downtime. Not anywhere I have lived. Be it Africa, Europe, North America. Or even the Middle East where I have occasionally visited. Businesses hire and pay workers to be productive for them so that they can recover their financial investments. If employees need an adjustment to their schedule at their place of work to accommodate their religious practices, they should wait for the approval to be granted by management before embarking on said religious practices. In the subject matter, that was not the case. Therefore the Wisconsin company was right in firing those guys who mistakes a place of employment for a mosque.
I have nothing against anyone practicing their religion. I am a Christian and I kneel and pray to GOD at the right time and at the right place. We live in a world where we have to work and make a living. And if you are not working for yourself, you of course have to abide by the terms and conditions of your employment. And I repeat, the terms you willingly signed up to even before you got hired for the job.
God actually advised us to give Him what belongs to Him and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. And wisdom, which is GOD, requires us to know when to do what. If those seven guys fired were uncomfortable working at a place where it is not possible for them to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it, they should have followed the lead of their colleagues who resigned their post. Rather than take laws into their own hands and good-a-thing got fired for it.
I suspect the workers that were fired either do not have families that they are responsible to or they are disillusioned about what religious freedom imply. If they do have families they cater to, then their actions amounts to gross irresponsibility and they should be ashamed of themselves for putting their blind religious doctrines over the wellbeing of their families. If they do not have families that they are responsible to, rather than defending their idiocy and irresponsibility, the ACLU should educate them on the meaning of religious freedom and personal responsibility. For it is obvious they live in a utopian world and requires an awakening.
It is important however to point out that these individuals do not represent a broader Muslim population. I have worked with devout Muslims who are professionals to the core.
I have gone around the world and am yet to find a place where an employee carves out personal time for religious exercises while on the clock of an employer without the explicit approval of the employer. This Wisconsin incident is the first. The ACLU jumping in on the bandwagon of defending the indefensible is troubling. And I know for sure that not even Allah will allow such blatant insubordination and absence of personal responsibility in His vineyard.
Let the debate continue…