The issue of whether a secular, for-profit corporation has religious rights under the First Amendment has come up with some frequency recently. We wrote in July that “Since the passage of Obamacare, employers who claim that their religious beliefs prevent them from using, paying for, or supporting the use of contraception, have claimed that this religious claim should be imputed to their wholly-owned companies such that these companies should be exempt from having to provide or participate in health insurance that includes providing contraceptives (or else incur a penalty).”
In that same post we reported on an important new federal appellate decision which held that it would not conclude that “just because courts have recognized the free exercise rights of churches and other religious entities, it necessarily follows that for-profit, secular corporations can exercise religion.”
We now understand from an excellent article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that this same issue may be developing in West Virginia in an entirely different context.
Caitlin Cook reports that the director of operations of a group of 20 Subway restaurants wrote to churches and congregations stating: “Due to changing times, we are looking for good honest people. If you have anyone in your congregation in need of a job, or new career, please have them contact us at the address provided above. We are looking for sandwich artists, shift managers, assistant managers and supervisers. … We are a Christian based company and in need of Christian employees.”
Both Title VII and state law prohibit “any notice or advertisement” which indicates a preference in hiring based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, the article noted correctly that “churches and religious nonprofit groups may consider religion when hiring,” and then concluded (as did the recent federal appeals court) that “Those exemptions would not seem to cover [this Subway group], which was established as a for-profit corporation in 1994, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.”
Irrespective of legality, local clerics interviewed were not particularly supportive of the company’s apparent preference for Christian employees. One said that “at least the implication of the letter is only Christians are good, honest people. … It’s the exclusive nature of it. Hopefully they’re recruiting, not just hiring.”
A Monsignor of Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in Charleston said that “There are a lot of other non-Christians, Jews, Muslims and some immigrants that may be Sikhs, Hindus that are honest, hard-working faith-filled individuals. I don’t know that you need to be a Christian to make a good Subway sandwich.”
Or a good falafel, bagel, or tandoori chicken.