Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Biblical birthday cards: My office circulates birthday cards for everyone to sign for each co-worker’s birthday. Today, for the second time this year, I was given a card to sign that had a Bible verse on it. I don’t think this is appropriate for a workplace, and to me this doesn’t seem to align with my company’s efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think I know who buys the cards for my office, and I don’t think they have a proselytizing bent. I think they just haphazardly grab cards without checking the insides (most cards do not have a Bible verse on them—just the two I’ve seen). However, they are someone who tends to take things very personally, so it makes me a little anxious to broach the subject with them. I also don’t know for sure that they are the one buying the cards, and they are also currently on medical leave and I don’t think they’ll be back in the office any time soon. Would it be appropriate to bring this up to someone else, like an office admin? Or should I wait until this person is back and ask them directly?
A: Since you’re not positive who, exactly, has been buying the cards, I don’t think you should ask someone you know to be both touchy and on medical leave without confirmation. I’d bring it up to your boss first: “I’ve noticed that the last two times we’ve circulated birthday cards, there’s been a specifically biblical message inside, which has troubled me, because I don’t think that’s the kind of professional message we’re trying to send as an office. It’s seemed haphazard rather than deliberate, but I think whoever’s in charge of picking out birthday/retirement/moving away/get well soon cards should make sure there are no overtly religious messages inside. Do you think that’s possible?” Since it sounds like it’s accidental, and you’re not worried about an evangelistic contingent among your co-workers, I think it’ll be a pretty easy conversation and that you’ll have no problem making sure all the office birthday cards remain secular.