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March 31, 2005

Legislation to Protect Religious Freedom in the Workplace

There is good bi-partisan support for a reasonable bill introduced by an odd couple of northeastern Senators to require workplace accommodations for an employee’s religious practice or observance, such as time off and attire.

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) of 2005 was introduced in the Senate by Rick Santorum (R-PA), and John Kerry (D-MA). Similar legislation will be introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Mark Souder (R-IN), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and Anthony Weiner (D-NY).

Santorum said:

“Throughout the ten years that I have been in the Senate, I have worked to raise the profile and importance of religious freedom, both domestic and international, including currently leading a working group to discuss these issues. “While most employers recognize the value of respecting religion in the workplace, sometimes employees are forced to choose between dedication to the principles of their faith and losing their job because their employers refuse to reasonably accommodate certain needs. We need to be respectful of people’s expression of faith in the workplace and in the public square. Senator Kerry and I hope that through this legislation we can find a balance for people who want to have their religious convictions respected at work and an employer who is trying to run a business.”

Kerry said at a press conference that he has been pushing the bill for almost a decade, since he was contacted by "two Catholic ladies who lost their jobs because they couldn't work on Christmas. No American should ever have to choose between keeping a job and keeping faith with their cherished religious beliefs and traditions.” (Source)

However, leave it to the ACLU and a homosexual lobby to find a problem with the WRFA.

Evidently, the ACLU sent an action alert to its members on June 9, implying that the Workplace Religious Freedom Act is an attempt designed to restrict access to abortions and to privilege harassment of homosexuals. (Source)

Christopher Labonte, legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign, said that though the bill was apparently created with good intentions, the way it is written could cause harm to gay people.

“The concern here is that employers would have serious difficulty resolving instances where an employee posts a sign reading ‘God hates fags’ in his office or cubicle; where workers proselytize on the ‘sins of the homosexual lifestyle’ over lunch and on breaks; where a social worker proffers a religious objection to being the case manager or counselor for a youth who is gay or transgender; or where a truck driver on 24-hour driving shift who gives a religious reason for refusing to drive with a co-driver who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

More on the legislation from Family Research Council:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ' 2000e-2, prohibits employers with fifteen or more full-time employees from discriminating against an employee based upon that individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title VII requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious belief or practice, unless such an accommodation would impose an "undue hardship" on the employer.

The "undue hardship" standard worked well until the Supreme Court ruling in TWA v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977). In Hardison, the Court ruled that requiring an employer to "bear more than a de minimis cost" in order to accommodate an employee's religious request constitutes an undue hardship on the employer's business. The Court specifically cited as the reason for its ruling Congress's failure to define "undue hardship" in Title VII.

Because the de minimis standard is exceptionally low, employers routinely and summarily deny requests and religious workers are left to deny their faith or lose their jobs. Many lawsuits asking for reasonable accommodations are unsuccessful.
The WRFA would restore the intent of Congress in Title VII by providing clear statutory guidance to those employers who wish to comply with the law but are unsure what level of deference the law requires. The WRFA is also good for business, as it is likely to significantly reduce employee lawsuits and any associated costs.

Case Examples:
· In 1999, Edward Pipkin, a truck driver, was forced to leave D. M. Bowmen, Inc., a Maryland trucking company, because he refused to compromise his Sabbath observance even though he had expressed his beliefs about Sunday work during his job interview and was assured that his beliefs would be accommodated.

· In 1999, California nurse Michelle Diaz was fired from the Riverside Neighborhood Health Center for refusing to distribute the "morning-after" pill based on her belief that dispensing the medication would be assisting with an abortion, a violation of her religious beliefs.

· In 1996, Kmart fired Karen Brauer, an Ohio pharmacist, for refusing to dispense Micronor, a birth-control pill. K-mart did so even though Ms. Brauer had informed them when she was hired in 1989 that, based on her religious beliefs, she would not do so.

· California's Department of Financial Institutions refused to allow an employee to hang a religious calendar in his work cubicle because the calendar was "inappropriate and offensive."

· A twenty-seven-year-old evangelical Christian filed suit against the Delaware State Police after being denied a position as a state trooper because a psychological screening test determined that he had strong religious beliefs.

· The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority has threatened to fire a Christian bus driver for wearing a head covering on her job based upon her religious beliefs.

The Rutherford Institute has issued a special report and 10-year overview of religious discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, the report calls for the passage of the proposed legislation.

Posted by Jim at March 31, 2005 07:48 AM

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The WRFA is a bill that would require employers to make accommodations for their employee's religious practices and observances. Two polar political opposites, Rick Santorum and John Kerry have introduced the bill in the Senate. Stones Cry Out has a... [Read More]

Tracked on April 1, 2005 01:24 AM


Santorum and Kerry working together - that is refreshing. And Bobby doubt we'll hear a lot from him in coming years.

Posted by: Matt at March 31, 2005 08:27 AM

I've got a big surprise for Mr. Labonte: Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees freedom of religion in the workplace. My Bible says that homosexuality is sin, and the law says I have the freedom (on my break time, etc.) to practice my religion in the workplace. Christ preached repentance, and commanded us to do likewise.
The above may seem a harsh bottom line, but the bottom line it is.

Posted by: tgharris at March 31, 2005 10:23 AM

So what are you saying? That you should be able to tell your gay coworkers that you're living in sin?

Posted by: Matt at April 1, 2005 09:22 AM

No, that they are.

Posted by: tgharris at April 1, 2005 01:51 PM