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A friend recently shared that her unit manager told her she could not wear a button stating, "Jesus Loves You." My friend asked why, noting that many patients thought it was great and that other nurses wore buttons with cheerful sayings. She was told that the hospital, which is part of the state hospital system, has a policy stating nurses are not to wear any items that advertise particular political or religious positions. She reminded her manager that many nurses wore cross necklaces. The manager told her that was irrelevant.


A faculty member in the nursing department at a state university relayed that she wanted to start a Christian fellowship group for nursing students. Her department chairperson told her she could not do so because of "separation of church and state," explaining that faith-based groups cannot be authorized within specific departments.


Another nurse told me she says "God bless you" or "I'll be praying for you" to her colleagues, patients and family members when they share difficulties with her. Her boss pulled her aside and told her to stop because these phrases interfere with others' rights to religious freedom.


Separation of church and state and religious freedom are complex issues. Certainly, there was ambiguity about such subjects in first-century Judea. Jesus was asked what obligation he and his disciples owed to the Roman government to pay taxes. By advocating that people "give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's," Jesus affirmed a distinction between the authority of the state and divine authority (Mt 22:21). The Apostle Paul taught obedience to governing authority (Rom 13:1), but explained that such authorities have limits because they are finite, established for a time by God (Acts 5:29).


Early Americans wanted to avoid establishing any official religion. Therefore, the Constitution of the United States prohibits requiring certain beliefs or particular church membership for public office. The First Amendment clarifies that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."


So how should Christian nurses respond in situations such as those described earlier?


As with everything in the Christian life, begin with prayer. Search your heart (Ps 139:23-24; Mt 7:1-5) and ask God for wisdom (Jas 1:5-8).


Then look to the Scriptures. In Scripture, problems of religious freedom are tackled, such as conflicts between Jews and Christians, and between Jewish and Gentile believers (Acts 21:20-26; Rom 14:1, 15:1), along with guidance about conflict (Rom 12:16-21).


Taking a biblical approach does not mean you shouldn't fight. It does mean, however, that you should be prayerful and obedient to God in your responses. If you have reason to believe your legal rights have been violated by hiring or employment practices, seek legal counsel. Often, however, issues have more to do with personalities and emotions than legalities. If someone is fighting you about the expression of your faith, ask yourself why? Is it possible that you have offended them? If you decide God is calling you to question a superior or a policy, do so respectfully and with humility.


As you pray, clarify organizational policy. Perhaps what a nurse is told represents the personal interpretation of an individual rather than written policy. How does a policy guide or limit expressions of faith?


My first friend examined her hospital policy and learned that religious jewelry was allowed. But whether religious slogans were allowed was unclear. She went back to her manager and humbly explained why she wore the "Jesus Loves You" pin. In deference to her manager's concerns, she agreed to stop wearing her pin. When the manager saw her humility, she allowed my friend to wear the pin unless she heard complaints.


The faculty member learned that there were other religious groups on campus and wrote a proposal for the Christian nursing student group. When the department chairperson saw that students wanted the group and the plan was organized well, she approved.


My last friend met with her supervisor and learned that there were other issues of concern about her performance. When her supervisor saw her trying to improve, she told her "Just use good judgment when you 'God bless' people."


When you encounter discrimination, keep in mind that Christians have struggled and will continue to struggle with this issue. But remember the words of Jesus, who told us to take courage because he has overcome the world (Jn 16:33).