Religious Discrimination and Freedom Stirs ControversyNovember 16, 2015
Wars are waged over it. We are warned not to discuss it at social events lest we want to induce a fiery debate that just may turn a nice evening with the neighbors into World War III. Religion. It is hard to think of a more globally debated and controversial topic than religious discrimination.
In recent years religious discrimination and freedom has been a frequent and fiery topic of discussion across the country. With the Supreme Court granting the LGBT community the right to marry and Planned Parenthood losing funding in many states, not to mention the many conflicts being fought in the Middle East, religious discrimination has boiled to the top, presenting itself across every facet of society from the workplace, to the school-house to the adoption agency.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 religious discrimination is illegal and goes against the central tenants of the constitution. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Religious liberty was central to the Founders’ vision for America, and is the “first freedom” listed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. A critical component of religious liberty is the right of people of all faiths to participate fully in the benefits and privileges of society without facing discrimination based on their religion.”
Yet, we continue to see case after case when this idea is violated. Here are a few notable examples:
Muslim Flight Attendant Suspended for Refusing to Serve Alcohol
On August 25th, Cheree Stanley, a Muslim flight attendant working for ExpressJet was put on leave after a co-worker filed a complaint claiming that she was not performing the duties of her job, which included serving alcoholic drinks to guests. Stanley had refused to serve alcohol to guests due to her religious beliefs, which she claimed she had discussed with her employer upon hire. In response to her suspension, Stanley filed a complaint with the EEOC, who is currently reviewing the case.
As Stanley said in a USA Today story, “I don’t think that I should have to choose between practicing my religion properly or earning a living,” Stanley told CBS News. “I shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other because they’re both important.”
Christian Bakers Refuse Same Sex Couple
In Oregon, owners of the bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, refused to bake a cake for a same sex couple’s wedding, citing religious beliefs. Consequently, the couple was ordered to pay $135,000 in damages after Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries claimed they had violated anti-discrimination laws. Since Sweet Cakes is not a registered religious institution, their religious beliefs defense was moot.
Denny’s Worker Fired Over Muslim Headdress
In Ocala, Florida, a Muslim man by the name of Marlondejuan Guy, was demoted and then fired after refusing to remove his kufi, a religious headdress for Muslim men. Guy filed a complaint with the EEOC after being fired in April and said, “If nothing comes out of this for me, maybe it’ll give the courage to the next man or woman that may be going through this secretly to stand up and say ‘Hey, you know what? He did it. I’m coming, too,” as reported by ABC.
These are just a handful of religious discrimination stories that have made news in recent months, but the amount of stories that go unreported are countless. And they aren’t just limited to the workplace. In Seattle parents are threatening to sue the Washington State Athletic Association if they do not reschedule a soccer tournament currently scheduled to fall on the Sabbath. For same sex couples looking to adopt, some religiously affiliated adoption agencies are refusing to approve them based on their sexual orientation despite the Supreme Court ruling that states must recognize same sex marriage.
An article in The Atlantic discussed how states are grappling with their own religious freedom laws in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, “Michigan passed a law, in June, allowing faith-based adoption agencies that contract with the state to refuse to serve prospective parents if doing so would violate the agencies’ religious beliefs. Virginia and North Dakota already have analogous laws in place, and Texas, Florida and Alabama have introduced similar laws this year.”
Religious discrimination and freedom is a serious issue in our country today. With such a mix of ethnicities and backgrounds, religious beliefs in the U.S. spread the gamut. And when these beliefs come into conflict with mainstream society, issues of discrimination and questions of religious freedom arise. If you believe that you have been the victim of religious discrimination in the workplace you need to speak with a lawyer who is experienced in employment discrimination law in your state, as laws vary both on a Federal level and a state level.