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Religious Beliefs and Business Ownership

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PURDUE UNIVERSITY CALUMET

Religious Beliefs and Business Ownership

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Semester Project OLS589

Michael J. Kovacs

11/24/2015

Semester project for OLS 58900. Topic and basis of research for understanding the impact of an owners religious beliefs on a business’s operations

(#1) Identify and explain the ethical issue/concern that I researched.

        A business has traditionally been operated as an agnostic entity with religion a strongly discouraged topic. Recently the news has been populated with stories of how businesses founded by highly religious people have taken this to task, and refused to participate in activities that would go against both their beliefs and the beliefs the business was founded on. The question then becomes one of reciprocity, where those who do not share the same beliefs demand that the business put aside its own beliefs to serve them. Who is right and who is wrong? Traditional business practices also called for the role of religion in domestic businesses to be downplayed to the point of non-existence. As more legal issues surface several bold players have decided to establish their religious beliefs as a corporate credo and try to stem the rampant corruption and moral degrade of business in general. In this paper we will examine the erosion of ethics and morality in business and the current trend of turning this around by discussing and answering the following questions:

  1. Is it ethical for an owner to impose his own religious beliefs on his business?
  2. What is the role of ethics in the board room?
  3. Can religion reestablish a trust in ethical business?
  4. What are the implications of business metered by a specific religious belief system?
  5. Is modern culture willing to accept religiously ethical business practices?
  6. Can business be refused on ethical grounds?
  7. Are hiring practices acceptable when the religious ethics are presented up front?

(#2) Specifically, how does this ethical issue/concern impact the workplace, either today or in the future?

        Business has typically taken a hands off approach to religion in day to day operations. The rise of unethical behavior has been seen in many public cases brought by a few bold souls against entities seen as having no moral compass. Companies such as Chik-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby have opened the eyes of the professional business world that ethical thought can be successfully incorporated into modern business. The alignment of beliefs to business vision can have profound impact on the moral standing of a business. The impact of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act has also changed the way that privately owned businesses will operate in the global economy as we approach the future.

(#3) What are at least three specific challenges or obstacles that need to be overcome to resolve or deal with this ethical concern/issue?

The boardroom has always been a place of pure business ambitions. American organizations of all sizes focus on the best way to maximize profits, minimize expenses, and often try to suppress the competition. Typically this is done in cut throat fashion with little moral backing to the decisions being made. The officers of the company were discouraged from bringing their personal feelings into the mix and often had to build two personas: a family man that cares about people, and a pure businessman that will succeed at all costs. The EEOC produced the “Civil Rights Act of 1964” in which Title VII deals directly with religious beliefs in the workplace and how a person is to be protected from a constant religious message. But the questions then become how far should this go? Should an individual who does not share the religious beliefs of an owner be allowed to actively work at a highly religious location? Or even timelier, should a company founded on specific religious beliefs be required to suspend those beliefs to provide services to clients who do not support those beliefs?

It is often that we associate morality and ethics with a strong religious background. While normally a positive message this must be carefully considered when cross-cultural boundaries are confronted. What is offensive to an American might be commonplace in a mid-Eastern company. This then sets the stage for the question that this paper is to address: can religion be integrated successfully into a business’s operations and ethical makeup? It is unfortunate that in our society decisions like this are viewed as an either/or proposition. I believe that we can see benefits to an inclusion of religion in business operations in almost all cases, and especially where operations are often subject to moral decisions.

(#4) What are specific solutions or strategies for overcoming each of the challenges/obstacles identified above?

There have always been those companies who have built their operations on a religious basis. These include such charitable organizations as those who support hospitals and care facilities (NCCS, n.d.) and direct charities such as the Salvation Army. But these firms were often challenged by those who did not wish to be preached to while working or who do not share the same religious basis. On the surface this seems to be a simplistic case: if you do not want the religion of an employer to be literally in your face, then do not go to work for the employer! A devout Catholic would certainly not be a welcome employee at a Planned Parenthood facility just as a strong atheist would have difficulties performing the role of a religious education teacher. If during the interview process an effort is made to define these parameters, would it be seen as enough? In a personal experience I was interviewed for a position with the Franciscan Health Care System. During the opening introductions it was made explicitly clear that the organization was founded by a Catholic order and that daily prayers are a regular part of operations, as were opening prayers said before any meeting started (Kovacs, 2015).  The candidate was then asked if they had any issues or disagreement with this environment and was allowed to leave if this was unacceptable. By continuing with the process implicit acceptance of the work environment was established and the interview could move forward. This is a profound solution for companies embracing their faith in daily operations. By addressing the issue of open religious support, even of a specific type, in the initial interview process the hiring company has defined the terms of employment in the very same way they would define technology assets, desks, and even duties of a new employee. The freedom to participate would be there but one would understand that objection would be allowed only be choosing to not participate.

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