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The Business of Religion


It used to be that companies were in the business of selling products and churches were in the business of promoting faith. Today the line between religion and the marketplace is blurring. Faith-based marketing generates nearly $5 billion a year in revenue. And as VOA's Mil Arcega reports, some well-known companies are bringing religion to the boardroom.

Prayer used to be something most Americans practiced in private. But faith is becoming much more public. Even President Bush takes his faith to work. "We are a nation of prayer" he said.

At Chick Fil A, which serves up more than a billion dollars of chicken sandwiches and fries every year -- prayer is penciled into corporate meetings. Management encourages employees to stay married and the chicken chain's stores are closed on Sunday.

Company Vice President Tim Tassopoulos says the company's purpose is to "glorify God". "One of the things that I feel confident about is that my work life is an expression of the higher values of my life."

Chick Fil A's philosophy is part of a growing movement. The In and Out Burger chain prints bible verses on the bottom of its cups.

Ford, AOL, American Airlines and Intel - all support employee faith groups.

Kelly Shackleford, chief counsel at the Liberty Legal Institute says it's all well and fine -- as long as employers don't force their faith on others. "They go too far when they step over the line and try to force or coerce or require employees to follow a particular religious belief or practice."

But at work or in the shopping mall, the marketing of religion is here to stay.

Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ movie made more than $600 million at the box office.

Agencies such as Marketplace Chaplains, says business is way up.

And last year, stores selling so called "Christian products" took in more than $4.6 billion.

Bill Anderson is the head of the Christian Retail Association. "The industry has grown from books and bibles to include music and apparel and cards and jewelry and children's products. It's really a Christian lifestyle store."

"It's a battle for good versus evil" says David Socha, who runs a company called One 2 Believe. He markets a line of dolls called "Messengers of Faith." "This is Samson. He is the toughest guy in the toy box," says Socha. "Real hero. These all speak scripture and what's more unique about these dolls is that we really wanted to make them high quality so they have 20 points of articulation."

Wal-Mart, the world largest retailer is test marketing the dolls. But whether Old Testament heroes can beat new world heroes like Spiderman or Barbie remains to be seen. The final judgment is likely to come not from a bearded man in the clouds but from children sipping sno-cones.

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