January 25, 2019

Using "In Christ" in an Email Signature

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Back in 2006, I wrote a brief post about some unusual written correspondence I received at work. I was not used to seeing "Yours in Christ" just before the signature line in professional correspondence, and I wrote about it after I received a few documents from a few different authors that included it. I thought it was strange but also inappropriate, and I mentioned that it led me to form an unfavorable impression of the authors.

As it turns out, I do not appear to be the only person who finds this particular closing to be inappropriate in professional communication. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) recently posted about an interesting legal case out of Sioux City, Iowa, in which a man who had been fired for continuing to include "In Christ" in his work correspondence after being instructed not to do so.

According to the article by Nick Hytrek in the Sioux City Journal to which Howard linked:

A federal jury on Wednesday found that an Iowa state agency did not fail to accommodate a former worker's religious practices prior to firing him for continuing to use the words "In Christ" on his email messages at a Cherokee, Iowa, sex offender treatment unit.
I have to admit being somewhat surprised by this outcome; however, I believe it was the correct decision by the court.

The case involved a government job, falling under DHS authority. And so, we have a government employee using "In Christ" as part of his email signature. It also sounds like he was asked to stop doing this. That is, his supervisor(s) instructed him to "keep his religion separate from his work." This seems like a perfectly reasonable request; however, he chose to disregard it and was fired.

Not surprisingly, his lawsuit focused on an alleged violation of his First Amendment rights, both pertaining to speech and religion. This seemed like a real stretch, and it was good to see the court agree. Putting myself in the shoes of the co-workers receiving these emails, I can see why this would be unwelcome. And these co-workers have rights too.

I have no problem with people using some variation of "Yours in Christ" in their personal correspondence as long as they realize that doing so may negatively affect how others perceive them. If turning every interaction into an opportunity to proselytize is so important to them that they will disregard the manner in which this is perceived by others, then so be it. But we find ourselves in a very different situation when someone does this in his or her professional communication on the job. This case involved internal communication, but it is easy to imagine someone doing this in their correspondence with clients as well (i.e., a professional signing his or her work products in this manner and then distributing them to clients).

Again and again, we seem to return to a familiar theme: religious freedom does not mean that one gets to involve unwilling others in his or her practice of religion. Religious believers are free to practice their religion; however, they need to learn how to do so without pushing it on others who are not interested.