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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
John Bursch | author
Jan 01, 2019
Filed under Ethics
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Live your Catholic faith confidently in business

“Dividing the demands of one’s faith from one’s work in business is a fundamental error which contributes to much of the damage done by businesses in our world today.” So said the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in its Vocation of the Business Leader. This sentiment will come as no surprise to Legates, who have committed themselves to learn, live, and spread the Catholic Faith. But living one’s faith in the business world raises two fundamental questions: What does our faith say about how we practice business? And how can we protect our businesses when we make the decision to live our faith in the workplace?

The answer to the first question flows from the Church’s teachings that all human life is sacred, and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral version for society. We are called to treat our employees, coworkers, customers, and even competitors as brothers and sisters in Christ, because that is what they are. As a Catholic business owner or executive, you will never look into someone’s eyes without seeing someone whom God loved into being

That sounds like a great principle. But the implementation can be difficult. Is there a specific level of benefits that we’re called to offer employees? Should an employee’s immoral conduct outside of work affect his or her hiring? Are there moral obligations that run with our advertising? How about with the quality of the goods and services we offer?

Fortunately — and surprisingly for some — the Church addresses these and many other practical business questions in Papal Encyclicals (e.g., Rerum Novarum), writings of pontifical councils, papal addresses, and other materials. An excellent compendium of these resources is A Catechism for Business, edited by Andrew Abela and Joseph Capizzi. The source materials may not tell you what is a “just wage” for a software engineer at a high-tech company in 2019. But they will provide the Catholic Church’s teachings for thinking about and making such a determination.

The trickier question is how to protect your business from attack when using faith to run your business. Following Christ’s law in the public square is increasingly dangerous in a culture seeking to stamp out religious exercise. Just ask Hobby Lobby, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and many other businesses that have been forced to defend their religious practices in court, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court.

Here, too, there is guidance in An Employers Guide to Faith in the Workplace, published by Alliance Defending Freedom. (A free copy is available at ADFlegal.org/campaigns/faithin-the-workplace, with an updated version coming in early 2019.) The Guide provides advice regarding the sharing of religious information and literature in the workplace, characteristics that may be considered when making hiring and promotion decisions, and how to support marriage and family in your business without violating federal law.

Helpfully, the more religiously you run your business, the greater your legal protection. For example, in Hobby Lobby’s litigation involving the ACA’s contraceptives mandate, the Supreme Court cited Hobby Lobby’s owners’ written statements of religious faith and purpose in ruling in the company’s favor. Such a statement not only expresses a business owner’s core religious beliefs, it serves as clear evidence of those beliefs should an employee or customer ever question them in a lawsuit.

JOHN BURSCH owns Bursch Law PLLC and serves as vice president of appellate advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom. He has argued 11 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and frequently represents companies and business owners exercising their religious faith in the public square. He is a past president of the Grand Rapids Chapter.

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