For years, I’ve used religious allusions when describing the various flavors of progressive ideology. Praying at the altar of woke. Adhering to the orthodoxy of the high priestesses. It may be secular, in that there’s no particular deity at stake, but it has otherwise had the attributes of a religion. Blind faith in an ideology and intolerance for non-believers. John McWhorter has been pounding on this point. Even Andrew Sullivan explains its “win” in religious terms.
Belief in something bigger, better, than ourselves has long been a staple of the human condition. Whether it’s Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed, people need something to believe in to make their existence meaningful. Is woke any different?
Often forgotten is that Title VII protects not only religious employees from being fired for their beliefs, but equally protects nonreligious employees from being fired for refusing to endorse an employer-mandated religion. “What matters in this context is not so much what [the employee’s] own religious beliefs were,” the Seventh Circuit federal court of appeals said in the 1997 Venters v. City of Delphi. What matters is whether the employee was “fired because he did not share or follow his employer’s religious beliefs.”
The First Amendment’s twin protections of religion, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, have fallen out of favor of late. There was a time when religion was, well, sacred in America, a right that most embraced and accepted as being worthy of protection while understanding that we were free to believe in the religion of our choice.
Where the line should be drawn has been contentious, whether Christmas displays on public property or a holiday for one religion shared by a majority of a nation but not for another holiday with only a small number of adherents. There was never a Charlie Brown Hanukkah special, although Rugrats corrected that omission.
But even if people are less into deities, does that mean their ideologies aren’t religions under the law?
Surprising as it may seem, the answer to that legal question is almost certainly yes. The Supreme Court’s definition of religion used to require a belief in God, but the Court abandoned that position 60 years ago in Torcaso v. Watkins. Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—which administers Title VII—employs a much more expansive definition: “A belief is ‘religious’ for Title VII purposes if it is…a ‘sincere and meaningful’ belief that ‘occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by…God.'” “Religious beliefs include . . . non-theistic ‘moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.'”
The caselaw strongly supports the contention that an overarching belief system grounded in a moral or ethical foundation of good and evil, right and wrong, is a religion even if there is no craven image to pray to.
Like most religions, wokeism is comprehensive and indivisible; just as no good Christian can pick his or her favorite five commandments, no woke practitioner can pick and choose which parts of the LGBTQ or BIPOC acronyms to like or dislike. Wokeism doesn’t give suggestions; it gives affirmative commands. You can’t just be “not racist,” but must be “anti-racist.”
And like any good religion, wokeness has its catechisms, clothing guidelines (no cultural appropriation) and taboo words. Mr. Cafferty’s sin was the accidental use of a prohibited hand gesture. Mr. McNeil’s was that he vocalized an unspeakable word, akin to blasphemy.
If so, that shifts the foundation of addressing those excommunicated in the workplace for their failure to pray to the right god. Or to put it less dramatically, if employment is contingent on attending the Church of Woke or uttering no heresy, then it would violate Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of religion. And some highly publicized employment actions of late seem to nail the problem down.
Last month, Disney fired actress Gina Carano after she compared Nazi persecution of Jews to the persecution of conservatives in America today on social media. The company called her post “abhorrent and unacceptable,” declining to explain why her co-star Pedro Pascal remains employed despite his own posts comparing Trump supporters to Nazis.
Distinguished science reporter Donald McNeil was recently ousted from The New York Times for vocalizing the n-word when answering a high school student’s question about whether a classmate deserved to be suspended for saying it. Emmanuel Cafferty, a Latino truck driver for San Diego Gas & Electric Company, was fired for accidentally—yes, accidentally—making the “OK” hand gesture used by some white supremacists.
Last week, Coca-Cola reportedly provided online training to its employees teaching them to “try to be less white,” claiming that “to be less white is to: be less oppressive, be less arrogant, be less certain, be less defensive, be less ignorant, be more humble,” and that “white people are socialized to feel that they are inherently superior because they are white.” Coca-Cola later said the video was “not a focus of our company’s curriculum.”
Were these individuals exercising their right not to believe in the Religion of Woke? Were their employers demanding that they pray to the correct secular god? Many will see this argument as not merely false, but in support of evil. After all, they believe that moral righteousness is to be found in not engaging in “hate speech” or white supremacy. What could be acceptable about people being racist or sexist?
Therein lies the issue of a religion. It may be a widely accepted social norm that a decent person does not call a black person by a racial slur, but that doesn’t mean that everyone without a shrine to Kendi or has taken an oath to dedicate their lives to seeking out and destroying every heretic and apostate isn’t as much of a religious zealot as Torquemada. And if so, then refusal to adhere to the orthodoxy of the Church of Woke is as much a protected right as being a Christian or Muslim. If you can’t be fired for one, then you can’t be fired for the other either under Title VII.