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Did Patriots Owner Violate Employment Law When He Said This About Tim Tebow's Christian Faith?


"We're blessed to have a lot of people like that, but the fact that spirituality is very important to him is very appealing to me."

It didn't take long for noted Christian and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow's signing with the New England Patriots to spark headlines -- and potential controversy. Only, it isn't anything that Tebow did or said, rather it's owner Robert Kraft who, during a Q&A with ESPN, spoke out in admiration of the famed footballer's faith.

While Kraft spoke both professionally and personally about Tebow's signing, it was his latter comments that have raised an interesting employment question worth considering.

"For me personally, having Tim Tebow on this team, he's someone who believes in spirituality, he's very competitive and works hard, and has a great attitude, and he's a winner," the team's owner told the sports outlet. "So having him as part of our franchise is great, but he has to compete just like anyone else. We're blessed to have a lot of people like that, but the fact that spirituality is very important to him is very appealing to me."

New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow during a team football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday June 12, 2013. Credit: AP

It wasn't the first time that Kraft, who is Jewish, mentioned Tebow's faith. But when he first praised the player for his "spirituality," it was back in 2011 -- well before the Christian player was hired to play on his team. Considering that Tebow is now employed by Kraft and examining the owner's admiration for the player's faith -- some may wonder if there are any employment issues of favoritism at play.

The Washington Post's Elizabeth Tenety posed a fascinating question. Noting that most employers are not legally permitted to reject or discriminate based upon religion (religious groups and churches are a different story), she wondered what happens when a boss favors or treats employees more positively because of admired faith views (Tenety didn't charge that this is happening here, but merely posed the question).

Since the NFL, either way, isn't a religious group, this is an interesting curiosity. However, it should be noted that Kraft made it clear in his statements that Tebow will have to work hard like everyone else on the team -- something that shows little evidence of favoritism.

Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center, though, as Tenety notes, believes that Kraft's comments were permissible.

New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow looks upward as he prepares to throw during a NFL football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday June 11, 2013. Credit: AP

"There is a difference between hiring or retaining someone on the basis of religious affiliation, which could run afoul of civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, and hiring or retaining someone because, among other things, he or she is spiritually-minded or has good values," he wrote.

"I see nothing problematic for an employer to express admiration for employees who have faith commitments or good character etc. absent evidence that religious employees are treated more favorably than non-religious employees," Haynes added, noting that this seems to be an example of someone merely admiring another person's faith.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.

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