As a Christian and social researcher, I have heard many stories over the years of religious discrimination in the workplace. Some are compelling and troubling, others are trivial and frivolous. And it seems like the workplace climate may be getting worse: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considered 3,721 religious discrimination complaints in 2013, up from 1,709 in 1997.
But the EEOC drops about four in ten of those complaints—a figure that's remarkably stable across religions. One big reason is that discrimination can be surprisingly difficult to prove. If a member of a social group is treated badly, is it because of their social group? Was he laid off because his boss was tired of giving him Sundays off? Was she reassigned because customers were wary of being served by a Muslim in a headscarf? Were they discriminated against, or do bad things just happen?
I started wondering: How bad is religious discrimination in America, really? Horror stories abound. But are they examples of a systemic problem, or a few bad actors? Do some groups have it worse than others?
My colleague Michael Wallace and I conducted a large-scale field study to test for religious discrimination in one area of public life: the job application process. We found that not only is religious discrimination alive and well, it is so strong that simply adding one word to a résumé—a reference to a particular religion—reduced employer callbacks by almost 40 percent.
What 9,600 Résumés Reveal
We started by creating four résumés, each one describing a fictitious job applicant who had just graduated from college. Two of the applicants were men, two were women. Their names ...