Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, businesses cannot discriminate against people because of their religion but that’s exactly what has allegedly occurred in Oklahoma when Edward Wolfe interviewed and was subsequently turned down for a supervisor position with the Tulsa branch of Lincoln, Nebraska-based company, Voss Lighting.
According to the Tulsa World and subsequently reported by the Huffington Post, Wolfe claims he was discriminated against because he wasn’t Christian enough for the company and a lawsuit has been filed on Wolfe’s behalf against Voss Lighting by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Wolfe says he applied to be a supervisor last year at Voss’s Tulsa location, and that it looked like he might have a shot. The person who initially reviewed his resume allegedly told Wolfe he was a “perfect fit.” But that was before Wolfe went in for an interview with the branch manager, Randy Tidwell. According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Oklahoma’s Northern District Court, Tidwell asked Wolfe “to identify every church he has attended over the past several years,” as well as “where and when Wolfe was ‘saved,’ and the circumstances that led up to it.” Tidwell also allegedly asked if Wolfe “‘would have a problem’ coming into work early to attend Bible study before clocking-in. The suit goes on to allege that “[t]hroughout the interview, Tidwell expressed overt agitation and disapproval at Wolfe’s responses to his religious line of questioning.””
In addition, the lawsuit claims that Wolfe was told that he didn’t have to be a Southern Baptist like most of Voss’s employees as long as he is a born-again Christian.
If this was indeed the case and Voss purposefully refused to hire a qualified applicant because he didn’t meet the religious standards of the manager interviewing him, it further intensifies the current battle being waged by Christian activists to allow rampant discrimination in the name of religious liberty. Just as conservatives across the country want to allow religious employers to deny women contraception, apparently some employers also want to be able to hire and fire based on whether or not an applicant is a hardcore Christian. Employees should not have to share the same beliefs as their potential employers in order to secure a job. Such requirements only make it harder for people to find a job in this struggling economy.
Wolfe’s case may be even stronger due to the unusual mission statement posted on Voss’s website which reads as follows:
Our business mission is to provide premier lighting products (light bulbs, ballasts and industrial/commercial fixtures) with courteous, dependable and knowledgeable service for the benefit of both our valued customers and our various vendors.
Our biblical mission 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.”
The rest of the statement is a series of Bible verses. The website also claims that God specifically selected Henry Voss to found the company in 1939.
After reading Voss’s mission statement it’s not hard to believe that the company would question people about their religion and make it a major factor in the hiring process. But regardless of how religious an employer is, discrimination is wrong and flies in the face of the constitutional guarantee that every person has the right to practice whatever religion they please. What the Constitution doesn’t guarantee is that businesses have the right to discriminate. In fact, the federal government has specifically made it illegal to do so. It is against the law to ask applicants about their religion. All an employer really needs to know is if an applicant is qualified to do the job he or she is applying for. Religion shouldn’t be a factor at all unless you’re applying to be a pastor for a church.
This situation is reminiscent of a time in America when businesses discriminated against people just because they weren’t white and represents the reality that even though America has made great strides to wipe out discrimination across the land, there are still people in this country who want to legalize discrimination and hate and want to see that it continues.