Separation of Church, State, and Work

I was visiting a friend in L.A. this week. That’s Lower Alabama. I lived there for a few years.

Driving back to Atlanta Saturday, somewhere between Montgomery and Opelika, I saw a sign urging voters to vote for Roy Moore as the Republican candidate for Alabama Chief Justice.

Roy Moore, in 2003, was unanimously ousted from that same job by his peers. The reason: He refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a monument to the ten commandments that he had put in place in the sate judicial building. And by monument, I’m talking about something big enough to be used as an anchor for a cruise ship.

So what happens when the big news in the state is about politics and religion at the same time? We talk about it at work, of course. And what happens in times like this is that people want to know where you stand on the issue. They want to know specifically that you would support having the ten commandments monument in the judicial building. And I wouldn’t even enter the conversation. As leaders, we need to understand the difference between the normal chat about current events and the use of events to challenge employees personally on topics that don’t have anything to do with work. I had to, on several occasions, remind employees that their co-workers personal beliefs on this stand had no bearing on their ability to perform the job.

Most of the fuss on the ten commandments monument must not have been happening during football season, or the real discussion would have been on the current status of Auburn and Alabama football, which is the most important topic in the state.

But here was the surprise I learned today. He won the primary and may well sit again in the same seat.

It’s bad enough when talk in the workplace is about the politics of the day, but when you have a politician who insists on bringing his religious views to the forefront of all his conversations, then the water cooler discussions become more judgemental.

“You mean you think the ten commandments aren’t an important element in looking at how we have come to create laws?”

You see, the argument goes that it has nothing to do with religion. The commandments are an historic artifact. An example of law. Except that Roy Moore doesn’t present it that way.

I was glad when he was removed from office and the talk died down.

Shortly after, we moved to Georgia, where my son’s biology textbook had this sticker in the front cover.

That’s a whole other story. But in case you didn’t hear about this one, the stickers had to be removed from the books at great expense to the taxpayers. And again, at the cost of productivity where employees made this debate part of their daily interaction.

Diversity of thought can breed discussion and innovation. But it also can build walls. We need to nurture diversity for the positive outcomes but at the same time understand that there are certain topics that will always be divisive, and agreeing to disagree might be the best we can do.

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