Skip to Content

What to say when the hiring manager asks about your religion in a job interview

Complaints against religious discrimination on the workplace or in the classroom are rising at record rates. How can you protect yourself from one of the most discriminatory queries of all is, “Which religion do you practice?”

By Print Preview

Religious discrimination


Despite all the increased awareness, warnings, and abundant corporate training available today, some hiring managers still openly ask illegal questions during the job interview, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job."

One of the most discriminatory queries of all is, "Which religion do you practice?"

"It may be that you're dealing with an inexperienced hiring manager," Taylor says. "But more often than not, interviewers who inquire about religion are trying to get at your work schedule. Questions about whether you observe certain holidays or attend a place of worship have little to do with your job, and you have no compelling reason to shed light on them. If a company wants to know more about your availability or schedule, they should not link it to a religious inquiry."

While you don't have to answer the question, you also don't want to come off as combative and hurt your chances of securing the job. So what do you say when put on the spot?

"Your challenge is to enlighten the employer to focus on your commitment without letting your emotions get in the way," Taylor says. "Realize that, like other discriminatory interview questions, it's probably the manager's lack of experience behind the question, and you can take the high road. You can also get to the bottom of any discriminatory practices by inquiring politely."

Taylor and Adam Robinson, CEO of Hireology, a software platform that simplifies the hiring process, offer seven examples of responses you could give to the discriminatory, "Which religion do you practice?" interview question without sounding like a jerk:

#6. "Interesting question. Is there a particular reason you ask?"

Read more from this article by Jacquelyn Smith in  Business Insider

In New York, religious discrimination is illegal in the workplace but companies find ways around the law by defining religion as irrelevant to "business purposes."  -- excerpt from First Things

On Monday, Yahoo Finance published an article examining the role of religious practice in the modern workplace. The article begins by considering a case of apparent anti-religious discrimination at the Manhattan office of JPMorgan Chase. Beginning in the early 2000s, a number of JPMorgan employees organized a Christian prayer group and bible study that met in company spaces. The group was fairly successful and well-attended for several years, but was ordered to cease meeting on company property in 2014, because corporate resources “can only be used for business purposes.”

What counts as “business purposes” becomes somewhat confusing when we look at the measures currently being taken by JPMorgan to promote corporate diversity. The bank makes company resources available to hundreds of “employee networking chapters” devoted to connecting and supporting members of various identity groups (LGBT, disabled, Latino, black, etc.). Not having been to meetings of these groups myself, I suppose it’s possible that they exist solely for “business purposes,” but I doubt it. In all probability, “business purposes” are merely the excuse for a more natural and robust goal: building communities among people who share common viewpoints and experiences.

Christians may look at this list of diversity organizations and feel aggrieved at the double standard. What distinguishes a Christian group from any of these others? Why would JPMorgan go out of its way to bus Muslim employees in the UK to prayers during the day, but ban a Christian prayer group from its offices? Surely those of Christian identity deserve just as much support as those who identify as LGBT, disabled, Asian, black, etc.

Part of the answer lies in the way “identity” functions as a moral and political category. Identities occupy a paradoxical middle ground in contemporary popular anthropology. On the one hand, identities are accepted as brute facts of individual personalities—personal characteristics that are either unchosen, or chosen in a way that does not allow others to question the choice. If someone has a particular identity, that is simply “who they are”—end of story.

On the other hand, identities are clearly a kind of social fiction. They are constructed around widespread patterns of appropriation and designation, and they do not generally admit of definition or demarcation based on objective attributes. No one bothers to ask what constitutes “being black” or “being Asian,” much less “being LGBT.” A person simply self-identifies, appropriates the label, and is identified socially as such—this is enough. Any attempt to pin down which characteristics entitle a person to these identities will quickly reach a dead end.

This is not to say that real characteristics don’t play into the appropriation of an identity (they clearly do), or that identities are simply chosen by those who appropriate them (for the most part they aren’t), or that having a particular identity doesn’t have a real impact on the circumstances or shape of one’s life. What is distinctively constructed about identities is their differentiation from any ordinary social, cultural, or physical type—the elevation of a set of characteristics or labels into a personality-defining absolute.

Christianity is not generally seen as an identity—being Christian is never seen as a fundamental feature of one’s personality, a given that cannot be questioned. Although one can be born into Christianity and raised Christian, we live in a society so saturated with lapsed Christians that no one has any illusions about Christianity being inextricable from the practice of one’s individual selfhood.

Diversity officers treat Christianity differently from Islam for precisely this reason: Islam, like Christianity, is a religion. But Islam is recognized as an identity and given accommodations because, in the West, being Muslim generally goes along with being part of an ethnic minority. Ethnic status is at least partly unchosen, and is identify-defining—therefore Islam, as an expression of ethnic identity, deserves protection and cannot be questioned. Being Christian, on the other hand, is never seen as unchosen, and it does not place one in an ethnic minority. Christians are perceived as being over-represented and over-privileged, and Christianity is thought of as little more than an irrational, tasteless (and potentially pernicious) moral ideology. Christians deserve no support because they need no support—we are culturally and ethnically at home. Islam deserves special treatment because it is (in the eyes of the relevant persons) foreign. …

Read more from this article by Elliot Milco in First Things



Read Journey's OpEd for generally agreed upon guidelines about teaching about religion in the public school: Is the public school a religion-free zone?

New York City & State anti-religious discrimination laws are among the most strict in the nation. Organizations like churches, synagogues and mosques may utilize religious criteria in their hiring.

It is sometimes hard to prove religious discrimination because no overt acts or statements of a discriminatory measure are made by the employer or school administrator. Many cases on racial discrimination have been won by showing that the hiring patterns clearly indicate the discrimination. However, these types of suits have not been widely utilized in religious discrimination cases.

From the New York City Bar Association:

Federal law prohibits companies with more than 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of a job applicant’s or an employee’s religion or religious belief (or non-belief). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from basing a decision to hire, fire, pay, give job assignments, promote, layoff, train, alter benefits, and any other condition of employment on religion. New York State and New York City law also prohibit religious discrimination by employers with more than 4 employees. if requested, employers must make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious belief and practice unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer’s business. 

From the U.S. Department of Justice:

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion in public schools and colleges. The Educational Opportunities Section works to ensure that all persons, regardless of their religion are provided equal educational opportunities. 

From the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission:

Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion or because of his or her connection with a religious organization or group.

Religious Discrimination & Work Situations

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Religious Discrimination & Harassment

It is illegal to harass a person because of his or her religion.

Harassment can include, for example, offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Religious Discrimination and Segregation

Title VII also prohibits workplace or job segregation based on religion (including religious garb and grooming practices), such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.

Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation

The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.

Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.


Sign up for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Upcoming Features