Seminar discusses religion at work

by Chris Howe

Religious expression at the University is an individual rights issue, said a University equal-rights attorney Monday at a bring-your-own lunch seminar on the St. Paul campus.
Kristin Lockhart, associate director of the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, discussed individual rights, pre-football-game prayers and federal guidelines for campus religious exercises with 13 University faculty and staff members.
The lunch seminar, “Separation of Church and State on Campus,” was the first in a series of noontime talks about spirituality in the workplace.
“The purpose of these meetings is for faculty to have a continued awareness and learn how to respect each other,” said Jerie Smith of the Lutheran Campus Ministry. He said the discussion helped determine appropriate conduct for an academic setting.
Lockhart addressed two religious rights issues: the right to work without facing religious discrimination and the right to express religious beliefs in the work place.
Lockhart said it is important to establish a clear distinction between private and public expression. It is up to the individual to limit how much religion should be expressed, she said.
“As individuals, or a group of individuals, we cannot get the impression that others are not welcome,” Lockhart said.
For example, taking a five-minute break for religious purposes was appropriate, but a four-hour break interfered with daily work duties, she said.
Faculty members can use University telephones to conduct personal religious business, University student-athletes can pray at football games and holiday parties are allowed as long as they are not conducted at the University level.
“The University cannot endorse one set of beliefs,” Lockhart said.
Several attendees said they led campus religious activities and were pleased to be able to talk about them.
“We are now realizing that there is a need for faculty and staff to learn about these rights and to express themselves,” said Joe Mulvihill, a faculty member and campus religious advisor.
The hour-long meeting ended with participants planning to hold more seminars on religious expression, said Janet Wheelock, a representative of the University Episcopal Center.
“This meeting gave us a stronger sense of responsibility as religious people — to be sensitive to differing religions,” Wheelock said.
The Religious Advisory Council sponsored the brown-bag lunch seminar, the first of three organized by the Catholic and Lutheran campus ministries and the University Episcopal Center.