“Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukah” are phrases commonly used during the holiday season, but could the use of such a phrase in your workplace get you into trouble for proselytizing? While it might be hard for someone to claim that you were sharing your faith by simply saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukah,” it is important to know if or when proselytizing can put your job in jeopardy. Employees in the private workforce are protected by the Free Speech Clause, but this right can be restricted.
The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects employees who want to share their faith, but this does not mean that they can talk about their faith without restrictions. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” It protects employees in the workplace who wish to speak about religious topics, and prevents companies from treating them differently based on faith alone.
However, a company has the right to limit religious expression in three instances: (1) if it imposes undue hardship on the operation of business and/or (2) if it causes or would cause customers or co-workers to reasonably believe that proselytizing actions express the company’s own message or (3) where the speech in question is harassing or disruptive. Furthermore, while evangelism is generally allowed, the person proselytizing must stop if the listener asks them to or makes it clear that such an act is unwelcome. For example, if a receptionist decorates the office with religious artifacts, the company is allowed to ask for them to be taken down because people could reasonably believe that the company was endorsing a certain religion.