It is on rare occasion that I drink coffee. I prefer a good cup of hot tea to the often-bitter taste of coffee. Of course, there is not much of a difference between a coffee mug and a hot tea mug (unless you are an aristocrat using a delicate China teacup). I purchased my first coffee mug for use at work.
The mug that I purchased came from Evolve Fish. It has a picture of Darwin’s amphibian holding a wrench and the word “Evolve” inside the body of the amphibian. The mug is navy blue and the emblem is copper.
I did not think I would have a problem with the cup, as it was usually in my hand or on my desk next to my monitor. One would think that after living in the heart of the Bible Belt for three years that I would have learned by now that anything portraying a non-Christian attitude would become a problem eventually.
As I strolled through the small office of fifty-five employees, I ran across a smorgasbord of Christian paraphernalia. Little plaques with prayers, icons in the shape of crosses and the Virgin Mary, ceramic angels and other religious figurines, various items containing the Lord’s Prayer, and plenty of other items. These items do not offend me, but do provide me with the occasional chuckle.
After using my new coffee mug for about three weeks, the manager of the office approached me and asked if she could talk to me in private. I do not work directly for the manager. I contracted to her office through a third-party vendor, so other than being able to put in a nasty word about me to my managers; she had no bearing on my job. Usually when she approached me, it was to ask a question about the contract or about personnel affected by the contract. More often than not, it was a computer-related question, as I was there specifically to replace their old system with a new one.
On this particular occasion, the question and conversation changed, and our relationship changed. Simply put, she told me there had been complaints about my coffee mug and that I should remove it from the office. I felt like a six-year-old child scolded for using the big kid’s toys. The situation was embarrassing and humiliating.
At the same time, it was infuriating, frustrating, and made me exceptionally resentful toward her. I was resentful toward her because as a manager she should have known better (and known the law). I was resentful toward her because as a Christian she concurred with the employees that had complained. This was clearly an issue of religious discrimination and I was worried at the time about getting into a lawsuit that I could not afford.
I agreed to remove my coffee mug on one condition; all other religious paraphernalia be removed from the office as well. While the paraphernalia did not offend me, I told her that it did. I told her that angels, prayer papers, and crosses, et al, offended me and to remove them.
She looked at me tentatively and hesitated. After pondering the situation for a while, she reluctantly allowed me to keep the coffee mug. I decided to let the discussion with her go at that instead of getting into a discussion on the Constitution and discrimination. While her motives for making the right decision were incorrect, at least she had made the right decision.
This event led me to be more open about my atheism and conclusion that the Theory of Evolution was the most scientifically sound theory for the abundance of life on the planet. I purchased the Darwin and Science emblems and placed them on the edge of my monitor. I also purchased a plastic Iguana for the top of my monitor, and a Darwin mouse pad.
While she (and other employees) looked at me scornfully when walking by, she never mentioned the incident again. The employees that complained became more openly vocal instead of going behind my back. A few discussions ensued that Christian employees instigated. I was willing to discuss the issue with them, although I asked them to return at lunch and we could discuss it while we were not on company time.
These conversations were usually an attempt by the Christian employee to convert and/or witness. I never gave the conversation a chance to develop in that direction and constantly maintained control of the conversation. I asked questions and I made statements. It continues to befuddle me how many Christians are taken aback when non-Christians know the Bible and the history of the Bible and Christianity better than they do. To them, intricate knowledge of the Bible is the best reason for being a believer.
A couple of employees approached me, congratulated me, and admitted their agnosticism and atheism to me. They said they wished they could do the same thing but were afraid of the repercussions and consequences. Since then, one of those employees has come out of the closet and admitted her atheism to her family and to her coworkers.
Since then my contract has ended and I have moved on to another office. I have always known that religious discrimination was a problem but had never encountered it personally in the workplace until that incident. I have encountered hatred and discrimination outside the workplace on many occasions, though.
As I look back on the incident, it is still hard for me to imagine that a little coffee cup created such a stir and could have possibly forced a discrimination lawsuit. Such is life in the heart of the Bible Belt.