I gets mail

A fan – who shall remain anonymous for reasons that will be clear in the email – sent me a letter I thought I would share with the rest of you. I’m not the best at giving advice to people in awkward situation like his, but since this is an atheism site, readers are bound to have opinions that they’re only too happy to share.

Hi Jake,

How do I ask my boss for Friday off to attend the Texas Freethought Convention?

The financially-fit, skilled, and competent version of me that I strive to be would be honest. Regretfully, I am not that man, and honesty is not really an option here.

I just started an internship at the end of August following a long stretch of unemployment. As an intern, I am extremely dependent on both my boss and my coworkers to learn on the job.

Even though I’ve only been with the company for a few weeks, I’ve found that my co-workers are vocal about their lives outside of work. Through this I’ve gathered that the three people in my immediate group are Christians. One of them even expressed frustration with being set up on a blind date with an, “atheist.”

A couple of years ago, my Christian parents found out that I had discarded the belief in god that I was raised with. Aside from their initial negative reaction, my lack of belief has not been discussed. They are still expressive of their beliefs around me while I keep my outlook to myself. My immediate family and friends of the family are also un-aware of my lack of belief. I remain silent partially due to respect, but largely due to my poor financial state.

The complicating link between my family and my work is my father; he has been with this particular company for all of his life.

I need my both parents and this internship to survive. I don’t feel comfortable risking either direct or indirect recourse with my co-workers or my parents. I am – for lack of a better word – scared.

The most appealing solution I can discern is to say that I am attending a Leadership Conference. If my co-workers accept this at face value and don’t prod any deeper, then I might be okay, but I wouldn’t know how to answer the, “who is hosting it,” or the, “where is it at,” follow-up questions.

Do you have any suggestions?

Well, I’m not a big fan of lying, but I don’t see you having a lot of choice. It sounds like drawing attention to yourself isn’t a good idea. My long-term suggestion would be to find a way not to have your balls in that kind of vice. Maybe that means moving somewhere else, where you don’t have to hide your beliefs for the sake of your job. I don’t know your family situation (which is what makes this part almost impossible), but living in such a hostile environment to unbelief for the rest of your life doesn’t seem desirable in the slightest.

Your story makes me wonder if there shouldn’t be an “covert” option available for people wanting to attend atheist conventions where the event builds a fake site for people with bosses and colleagues that just wouldn’t “get it”. It’s true that makes us non-believers appear dishonest or “closeted” about our beliefs, but we can’t expect everyone to risk losing their jobs, their friends, or even their family to show up at one of these events. It would be a little like the site “Ashley Madison” which bills your credit card under a pseudonym to ensure your spouse is unaware of your actions. It’s sad that such a service seems necessary, but that’s just the way things have to go until religious people stop having a “problem” with our existence.

Comments (11)

  • avatar

    Anonymous Atheist

    Here’s a couple other events I found going on in the same city (Houston, TX) and weekend (October 7-9, 2011) as this Texas Freethought Convention, that could potentially be used as cover stories:

    For someone interested in, or willing to develop or feign sufficient interest in, Mixed Martial Arts:
    UFC Fan Expo – http://www.ufcfanexpo.com/

    For someone who wants to pretend to be religious (might not be relevant to this letter-writer, but might be for other people who aren’t already partially-out and/or trying to avoid the topic altogether):
    International House of Prayer ‘OneThing’ youth prayer and leadership conference – http://www.ihop.org/Articles/1000104246/Houston_TX.aspx

    Another possibility, depending on how close you are located to be able to excuse wanting the whole day off for just an evening thing, is to find a music concert or comedy show going on that Friday evening and pretend that you want to attend that.

    For someone whose family isn’t also involved at work, there’s the classic ‘call in sick’ or ‘feign a family event’ options.

    Also, keep in mind that although it would be nicer to get to attend the whole thing, you could just work a regular day Friday, missing most or all of the first day of the conference, and still get to attend it Saturday and Sunday without having to explain yourself at all.

  • avatar


    I’m not sure how your interneship works, but…

    First of all, could you just go to the Saturday and/or Sunday days? (or do you work those too?)

    Do you get a holiday entitlement? If so, use it.

    Could you ask to swap the Friday for a day you don’t work or do extra hours to make the time up?

    If you have to you can always say you are going to something else that day, I’m sure there are plenty of other events you can substitute in your request.

    You could also come up with an added extra for your boss i.e. I’ll swap days/make up the time and also [added work related task on your own time]this should impress apon them that you are dedicated to the job.

    Make it a one off type task though. You don’t want even more work on top of the normal internship duties (unpaid is it not?)

  • avatar


    Tell them you found a lump in your ball sack and need to have a doctor check it out. They will most likely not be willing to check to see if you’re lying and everyone will be relieved and happy when you come in on Monday with a clean bill of health.

    Yeah, that was a smart ass sugestion and this is a serious situation, so I’m sorry for being a jerk. In reality, your job should not be at risk for your non religious beliefs so lieing is the best course of action allowed to you. I don’t see any moral issue with lieing to protect your job from potentially criminal repriasals for the same reason that I don’t see any moral issue with lieing to protect your material goods from theft.

  • avatar


    I would “go vague” in the situation you describe. Specifics are most likely the enemy. Stay honest, as far as you go, but leave out a lot of the relevant details.

    Avoid the health excuse. Your parents will know, or find out, if that is a lie. Especially if you’re leaving with/near them right now. Too easy to disprove.

    “Some friends and I are discussing spending some time together on the weekend of X. We’re trying to make it a long weekend, as it’s rare that we’re able to connect face-to-face. So I’d like to try to be out there Friday morning.

    This is a weekend that just fit everyone’s calendar particularly well.

    If the time away from the office is a problem, I’m willing to ‘…’ in order to make up the time.”

    Vague commitment, with friends, and constantly showing that you are able to willing to do your work.

    You may still get a “no”, but it allows you to avoid having to lie about anything in particular, which seems to be a problem, as I’m sure there are some friends that you are planning to meet at the event.

    If people ask, you should be able to stay mostly honest:
    Some friends are from earlier life, some from online, some you’ve never met face-to-face.
    Planning to see some sights in whatever city, do dinner, go to clubs.

  • avatar


    I don’t get why he has to detail his plans for time off at all?

    When I request time off for work, all that they need is the dates- there’s no real explanation needed. If I was asked a question I didn’t want to answer, there’s always a standard vague “it was a personal thing” or “it was a family thing.”

  • avatar


    I also feel like the letter writer shouldn’t feel obligated to give any details whatsoever.

    Let’s say someone had to take off work for an abortion. I’m 99.9% sure that person would tell their boss they had a doctor’s appointment in order to avoid any potential judgment, awkwardness, etc.

    As for asking for time off right after starting the job, I would definitely do whatever it takes to make it up so the boss can’t ding you for missing work.

    Regarding talking to your co-workers about it, DON’T BRING IT UP. I’m a proponent of voicing one’s atheism but if it’s going to make you uncomfortable at your job (where you spend the majority of your time) then try to avoid the topic.

  • avatar


    Honestly, he’s only been working there a little over a month and he’s already asking for time off?

  • avatar

    B. J. Price

    He doesn’t have to give a reason. And if asked he can just reply ‘it’s personal’.

  • avatar

    JoAnna Hill

    I second (or third?) the line: “It’s personal.” A prying question afterwards can be met with silence and a raised eyebrow.

  • avatar


    I think the fact that your father works for the same company you do is going to screw your chances of getting the time off you want for this, any excuse you come up with could get back to your father. Since your original e-mail indicates you’re somewhat financially dependent on them, you need to be careful to clear things with them first; this is even more important if you live with them.

    I’d go with something like this:

    “Hey Dad, one of my [insert name of social media site here] friends is flying into [insert event town name here] Friday on business and should be done around 1:00 PM. Since his bosses are letting him spend the weekend and leaving on Monday we thought it’d be cool to hang out and have fun weekend in [insert name of event town here].”

    Now your Dad is going to be all, “You just got the job and you’re already asking time off?” So then you got to be all, “Yeah, I know, but this really is a unique situation and I don’t know when, or if, it’ll happen again.”

    Basically get it into their heads that this what you’re doing, have a “friend” on standby in case they want to see your computer or just give them a name or something. I’m assuming your over 18, you shouldn’t have too much problem convincing them you’re okay to go.

    With your Dad in the loop and up to speed on the story just ask your boss, use a variation of the above, and be okay with him saying no; you did just start the job, its a bit unreasonable to ask for time off so soon after starting. If he does say no Just go Saturday and Sunday and miss the first day, a lot of the conferences put their panels up on Youtube any way.

    This way if they decide to check with your Dad, he knows the story you’re going to tell and corroborate it for you.

    The best part is you’re not even lying:

    “Hey Dad, one of my [insert name of social media site here] friends is flying into [insert event town name here] Friday”:

    There is an old saying, “A Friend is a stranger you haven’t met yet.” Since the conference is going to be attended by a bunch of strangers with interests similar to yours, its likely you’ll make at least one friend (or acquaintance) that you’ll want to get to know better.

    Its also true that many of the conference goers are on social media sites, chances are the new friend you meet will at least have an e-mail account.

    Additionally a lot of the people going to the conference will be flying in from out of town.

    “on business and should be done around 1:00 PM.”

    Getting off the plane, to the hotel, and getting checked in is serious business in an unfamiliar town. The conference is probably open for registration after 1:00 PM, if not you can fudge this one a bit up or down. Just put it firmly in the just after noon but not later than 3:00 PM idea otherwise your boss could hit you with, “You get off at 4:00 and it’s only an hour drive, surely he can wait till you get there at 5:30?”

    “Since his bosses are letting him spend the weekend and leaving on Monday”:

    A person is the master of their own destiny, if they decide to give themselves permission to leave on Monday well that’s up to them isn’t it? 🙂

    “we thought it’d be cool to hang out and have fun weekend in [insert name of event town here].”:

    You’re going to have a blast hanging out with like minded people all weekend because being free to be you, even for a short time, is such a fun and liberating thing. I know this personally, I’m a big sci-fi nerd and sci-fi conventions are usually the only place where I meet people who can understand half the stuff I actually like and enjoy talking about.

    So don’t lie (exaggerate instead!), get Dad on board, and you just *might* be able to do it. But don’t be pissy if you don’t, you need the job, just go over the weekend instead.


  • avatar

    Paul F

    From a totally different direction… If you’re so short on cash why is it so important to risk your job security by expending $225 on this event(http://www.eventbrite.com/event/813509228/descriptionDiv11349915)? Yeah there will be some great speakers/lectures and events but it’s only one convention. Maybe next year you can schedule things better. We all have to set priorities; fun/interesting event versus job/roof over your head etc… Life simply sucks sometimes. Deal with it.

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