Critical Commentary: Religion in the Workplace

Posted on November 8, 2013 by

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Recently, USA today ran a story (http://usat.ly/1hkQwKR) stating that Muslim Workers at DHL Mail were fired for praying at work. The article stated that the employees were fired from DHL mail after a previously flexible break policy which accomodated their rigid prayer schedule was reversed, and when the employees stopped working to pray, they were fired because their prayers were now out of the boundaries of the newly-stated break periods. The article included a video, and I will discuss and analyze the rhetoric used in the article as well as the video.

The video begins immediately playing when you click on the article, and is prefaced with a text saying that the employees are being interviewed for what they state as “unjustly fired for praying.” Immediately, the use of the word ‘unjustly’ gives the reader sympathy for the employees. The interviewer, however, uses very neutral and non-leading questions, which allows for the reader to draw their own conclusions from the answers of the employees without being primed by the reporter to think a certain way. The answers of the fired employees when asked about why they were fired due to prayer use defninite and concrete words like “HAD TO” and “MUST,” which can lead the reader to believe that they had no choice in the matter, giving them more of a victim-like view of the employees, because they had no choice in the matter.  The interview with the lawyer representing the employees also showcases the laywer making a point to state that the country is founded on freedom of religion and that should have been extended to the former DHL mail employees, which can invoke a sense of agreement in the reader, because constitutional freedoms are seen as of the utmost importance in American society.

The article uses similar rhetoric to the video, stating that the employees were model employees, and had never received negative feedback until this prayer incident. Immediately after, the writer states the backstories of the fired employees, which invoke a sense of sympathy and perhaps even pity in the reader, giving the ex-employees a further sense of unjust victimization. However, the article did a good job in trying the provide other commentary on the story besides the opinion strictly of the writer. Attempts to contact DHL mail more directly for a defense, such as a DHL counsel member and DHL headquarters, were made, but because no comment was given by these sources, the opinion of DHL mail in this matter is not really stated in the article. This allows for the author to focus more on the story of the fired employees, giving them further sympathy and giving the reader more opportunity to form a bias against DHL mail for an unjust firing. The writer also goes in to background on similar complaints, and uses a subsidiary of DHL mail as the primary example, further biasing the reader against DHL mail. The last sentence in the article is a quote from one of the employees stating that other people have not had a problem with his prayer schedule, which gives the reader more bias against DHL mail that they too should be able to accomodate the prayer schedule if others have been able to.

This story was likely given coverage in a major newspaper because the law suit for the employees was picked up by The Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and it would be beneficial for media attention to be brought to the situation for the lawsuit, because it makes the fired employees appear like victims and DHL mail appear as vicious perpetrators of religious employees. 

It is very obvious in this article that the “good guys” are the fired employees, who are shown as sympathetic and misunderstood by their employers, and unjustly fired. DHL mail is clearly noted as the “bad guy,” for firing employees solely based on religious purposes. Although DHL mail is cited in the article as stating that the firings occured due to insubordination, the article and video focuses so heavily on the fired employees and their tragic life situations that are far less comfortable than our own that DHL mail doesn’t really stand a chance in defending their actions.  The writer doesn’t present an obvious bias, but the use of sympathetic backstories for the fired employees and straight-foward corporate answers of DHL mail further confirm the “good guys” vs. “bad guys” asthetic, that a large corporation is picking on the religious minority in their company simply because they can.

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