Free Exercise of Religion in Schools and Workplace Student
FreeExercise of Religion in Schools and Workplace
FreeExercise of Religion in Schools and Workplace
Everyperson has the right to be treated fairly and with respect regardlessof their religious beliefs of lack of these beliefs. In an attemptto achieve the correct level of protecting peoples’ rights there isa lot of debate about religious practices in the public. Somescholars argue that religious beliefs require greater protection thanwhat is offered in the legal framework today. Other scholars claimthat religion is given more than enough protection while other arguethat the legal framework protects all groups equally (Equality andHuman Rights Commission, 2013). Thefollowing paper will discuss the different cases regarding religiousaccommodation and how the impact of the rulings of these cases on theaccommodation of religious practices and beliefs in different places.
Therehas been an increase in the number of religious discrimination casesfiled with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the lastten years. This is attributed to the increased diversity in theworkplaces today. When the employers’ policies and employee’srights to carry out their religious beliefs, the employees must beaware of their rights and the employers must know their obligation toprovide religious accommodation. The following is a look at how theobligation for religious accommodation came into existence in theTitle VII in the Civil Rights Act. Also, we will look at theinterpretation of this act by the courts and how it has affected theemployer’s religious accommodation responsibilities (Grisham&Hutton,2014).
TitleVII of the Civil Act Right states that it is illegal to discriminateemployees based on their race, color, sex, religion or nationalorigin. However, this law did not protect people based on theirreligious beliefs as seen in the case of Deweyv. Reynolds Metals Co.In 1951, Robert Kenneth Dewey started his employment at ReynoldsMetal Company. Ten years later, he joined the Faith Reformed Churchand as such, his religious beliefs did not allow him to work on aSabbath, Sunday. The workers’ union and the company had agreed thatemployees are obligated to meet their work requirements and one canbe exempted from these responsibilities if they have a justifiablereason. Dewey did not volunteer to work overtime or work at all onSundays and this was due to his religious beliefs. By doing so, hereceived a warning reminding him that he was expected to work forseven days. Between January and August 1966, Dewey had managed tofind replacements when was required to work on Sundays. However, onAugust 28 the same year and the consecutive Sundays, he refused tocome into work on Sunday and to find a replacement. He was fired forviolation of the company’s rules and he later filed a suit againstthe company for religious discrimination. The EEOC later gaveregulations to amend that the religious discrimination prohibited inTitle VII included an employer’s failure to offer religiousaccommodation to their employees if the accommodation did not causeundue hardship to the employer’s business. The federal districtjudge’s decision was in favor of Dewey. However, the Court ofAppeal reversed this decision stating that Title VII only focused ondiscriminatory acts. They found that the bargaining agreement did notdiscriminate against Dewey. A petition to rehear this case as denied.Senator Jennings Randolph who was a member of the Seventh Day BaptistChurch later proposed the amendment of Title VII. This is because hisreligious beliefs often conflict with his work obligations. In 1972Title VII was amended to include an employer’s requirement toaccommodate the religious practices and beliefs of their employeesunless it causes undue hardship on the business.
TheSupreme Court has also addressed the religious accommodation issue inthe TransWorld Airlines Inc. v. Hardisonand AnsoniaBoard of Education v. Philbrookcases. In the TransWorld Airlines Inc. v. Hardison case,Larry Hardison started as an employee of Trans World Airlines (TWA)as a clerk in the Store Department in July 5, 1967. This StoreDepartment was significant in operations of TWA and it was operated24/7 all days of the year. The employees in this company were under acollective Bargaining Agreement. During the spring of 1968, Hardisonstarted studying religion and one of the key elements of his studyrequired him to observe the Sabbath and that included not from thesunset of Friday to the Sunset of Saturday and during other religiousholidays. In April 1968, Hardison informed his supervisor of newlyacquired religious beliefs and that he required religiousaccommodation to observe his religious beliefs (Justia, 2017). Hissupervisor agreed that Hardison’s union representative should findhim a job swap or change of his days off. The supervisor informedHardison that he if he agreed to work during the traditionalholidays, he would have off during his religious holidays. Also, thesupervisor agreed to find Hardison a job that would not conflict withhis religious beliefs. This issues was resolved temporarily whenHardison started the 11:00pm – 7:00 am shift since it allowed himto observe the Sabbath. However, this changed when Hardison want theday-shift position. The company was willing for the union to finddifferent work assignment for Hardison but the Union did not want toviolate the collective bargaining agreement. TWA rejected theproposal to allow him to work 4 days a week since he was in anessential job position and he was the only available employee to workduring the weekends. Since they did not reach an accommodation,Hardison refused to work on Saturdays. He was fired on the grounds ofinsubordination since he did not agree to work during his designatedshift. However, Hardison filed a religious discrimination chargeagainst TWA and sited the administrative remedy required by Title VII(Justia, 2017). He argued that the obligation to accommodate hisreligious belief should take precedence over the bargainingagreement. The Supreme Court agreed that both the seniority systemand the collective bargaining system were not grounds to violateTitle VII but found that the duty to accommodate did not require TWAto take actions contrary to the bargaining agreement. The court notedthat TWA had made significant effort in attempt to accommodateHardison. The company had held meetings with Hardison in attempt toresolve the conflict between its business needs and Hardison’sreligious beliefs beyond its normal procedure. The court found thatTWA was required to incur additional costs to accommodate Hardisonand that such costs were not incurred when giving their otheremployees off. According to Grishamand Hutton(2014),the court concluded the accommodation caused TWA undue hardship sinceit required the company to bear “more than a de minimis cost.”
Thecourt faced a similar issue to the Hardison case in the AnsoniaBoard of Education v. Philbrook case.Ronald Philbrook, a school teacher, had religious beliefs thatrequired him not to attend secular employment during holy days(Sharp, 2014). This required him to mix around six school days a yearbut according to the collective bargaining agreement he and otherteacher were allowed three days of leave due to religious practices.They were not allowed to use business leave days for these religiouspractices. The school board did not allow Ronald to use hisadditional leave days for religious reasons. This decision forcedPhilbrook to take unauthorized leave or sometimes schedule hospitalvisits on the holy days to ensure he observed his religious beliefs.He sought other ways of administrative relief with no lack and helater filed a suit against the school board claiming that theirdenial of personal leave days for religious observances was inviolation of Title VII (Sharp, 2014). The district court’s decisionfavored the school board claiming that Philbrook had not provedreligious discrimination since the defendants did not force him tochoose between quitting his job and violating his beliefs. TheSupreme Court also affirmed this ruling but after looking at thehistory of Title VII they found that the conclusion that an employershould accommodate the employee’s beliefs unless they cause unduehardship was incorrect. The court found that an employer was notobliged to choose a specific accommodation and that their attempt toaccommodate the employee in any way meets their religiousaccommodation obligations as required by Title VII. An employer isnot required to show that all the accommodation options can causeundue hardship and that the extent of undue hardship is only ofconcern if the employer cites this as the reason they cannot offerreligious accommodation (Sharp, 2014).
Thereare other recent court decisions that have tackled various issuesregarding religious accommodation. The Court of Appeals ruled in acase of Adeyeyev. Heartland Sweeteners wherean employee had made two requests for unpaid leave. The employeewanted to attend funeral rites in Africa for his father which createdan issue of the religious nature of the request and whether itrequired accommodation under Title VII (Supreme Court, 2013). SikiruAdeyeye had moved to the United States in 2008 and in July 19 2010,he wrote to Heartland Sweeteners expressing his need for a five weeksunpaid leave indicating his need to participate in his father’sfuneral rites are required in his traditional customs. In hisrequest, he gave a chronology of events that were to happen inNigeria and he stated that failing to attend the burial rites wouldlead to consequences on his family including spiritual death. Thecompany denied his request. Adeyeye wrote another request onSeptember 15, 2010 asking for one week of an earned vacation andunpaid leave for three weeks. In this request, he stated that hewanted to attend his father’s funeral ceremony and expressed theneed to there since he was the first born and he was the only son inhis family VII (Supreme Court, 2013). The company denied his requestand Adeyeye proceeded to travel to Nigeria for the funeral ceremony.When he returned to work, his employment had been terminated byHeartland Sweeteners. Adeyeye filed a suit claiming that Heartlandhad violated Title VII by denying him a leave request. The DistrictCourt’s ruling was in favor of Heartland. The case was appealed tothe Court of Appeal where the court disagreed with the DistrictCourt’s ruling. The court found that beliefs that involvedspirituality, afterlife and other soul related possibilities werereligious beliefs under Title VII. These protections included thebeliefs held in unfamiliar regions. The court stated three factorsthat determine whether a belief is religious: that the belief issincerely held, that belief is religious, and that the accommodationof the belief does not cause undue hardship. The court found thatAdeyeye’s mention of “funeral rite” and “funeral ceremony”in his request for leave was enough notice that his request was of areligious nature (Supreme Court, 2013). Also, that the informationprovided by Adeyeye regarding this ceremony showed the sincerity ofhis beliefs. The decision by this court shows the challenges thatemployers face today since they are not only required to accommodatenon-religious practices but religious practices as well.
Religiousclothing court cases are on the rise with an aim of challenging thedress code restrictions placed by the employers. In a case of EEOC v.Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the court of Appeals ruled that theretailer’s decision to hire a Muslim woman who was wearing a hijabwas not fueled by religious discrimination since the woman did notrequest religious accommodation and as such, there was lack of notice(Supreme Court, 2015). Samantha Elauf, a Muslim lady, was applyingfor a position in Abercrombie Kids, a company owned by Abercrombie &Fitch. Elauf knew of the type of clothing the company sold and thatshe would be required to dress in similar clothing as the company’semployee. Elauf wore a T-shirt and jeans like Abercrombie employeesand her hijab during the interview. In this interview, they discussedthe dress requirements and other looks requirements. Elauf did nottell the interviewer that show was Muslim and that wearing theheadscarf was based on her religious beliefs or that should needreligious accommodation. However, the interview assumed she wasMuslim but was not certain about the requirements of the hijab. Elaufdid not receive an employment offer and later learnt that it wasbecause of her headscarf (Supreme Court, 2015). EEOC’s suit againstAbercrombie was due to their failure to accommodate religious beliefsand their violation of Title VII. The district court ruled in favorof EEOC but the Tenth Circuit disagreed with their decision. TheTenth Circuit found that EEOC was supposed to prove that Elauf’sreligious beliefs conflicted with those of Abercrombie. EEOC was toprove that Elauf had informed the company of her beliefs and that theconflict was the reason she was not hired. EEOC could not prove thatElauf had informed the interviewer of her conflicting beliefs(Supreme Court, 2015). As such, the decision of the Tenth Circuitplaced the burden on employees to inform their employers of theconflicting religious practices and the need for religiousaccommodation.
Anemployee’s religious beliefs sometimes require that the employeraccommodates them by exempting them from certain duties. In a case ofNobachv. Woodland Village Nursing Home center, Inc. Nobachbrought a suit against the employer on the grounds of religiousdiscrimination. She claimed that the employer discriminated her fornot praying the rosary with a patient because this was against herreligious beliefs (U.S. Courts of Appeals, 2015). Nobach was employedas an activity aide and her duties included daily routines likedevotional reading, playing games with the residents, readingnewspapers to the residents and keeping them entertained. In November2009, Nobach was working in a different building and the supervisorasked her to pray the rosary for one of the Catholic residents. Sheinformed the supervisor that she would not do this since she was nota Catholic and she told the supervisor she was welcome to conduct therosary herself. Nobach was issued an insubordination write-up and wasterminated since she was expected to perform the rosary even thoughit was against her religion. The court found that like in theAbercrombie case, Woodland did not know of her religious beliefssince Nobach had not requested religious accommodation (UnitedStates District Court,2012).
Implicationsof the Laws on Religious Practices at Work
Religiousemployees sometimes face a conflict between their work obligationsand their religious duties. There are the state, local and federallaws that require employers to accommodate their employees’religious obligations. The managers are expected to do this as far astheir accommodation does not lead to undue hardship on their business(Anti-Defamation League, 2015). The expected accommodations may varyfrom wearing religious attire to not working on the Sabbath. To makethese accommodations possible, this may include actions like shiftswaps, flexible scheduling, transfers to other positions, andassignment substitutions. For instance, the employer can allow anemployee who observes the Sabbath on Friday to work from Monday toThursday (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2013). An employer isallowed to deny these accommodations if the actions may hurt his orher business. However, they are required to demonstrate how theseactions can affect the business. As such, the religiousaccommodations require the employer to attempt to resolve theiremployees’ job obligations and religious needs, and if this is notpossible, they should identify the effect this could have on thebusiness regarding increased monetary expense or other costs.
Anemployer can choose to accommodate a number of requests. Themanifestation of beliefs can be through clothing, jewelry, andappearance. Such includes headscarves, dresses, wearing a cross orturbans. Employees may request to take time off for religious reasonssuch as not working on Sundays for Christians and Fridays for Muslimsor other religious festivals and pilgrimages (League, 2012). Also,employees may ask to have their work duties changed, for example, toavoid contact with alcohol or meat due to their religious beliefs.
Employeesare expected to inform their employers of their religious obligationsonce they are offered a job or once they realize the need to beaccommodated. They are supposed to give a clear explanation of whythey need this accommodation and not vague reasons like they cannotattend work because of certain cultural traditions (League, 2012).However, they are not required to prove these religious beliefs suchas by showing their membership of an individual church. Once anemployee makes their request, the employers should review their workpractices and policies to ensure they do not unfairly discriminate aparticular employee.
Employersshould not make assumptions regarding a belief or disregard it whenit is done by an employee. It is possible that employees with thesame religion do not have the same practices or beliefs. There aresome factors that the employer should consider before making areasonable and balanced conclusion. These includes the impact of theaccommodation on the business if the request is granted and thesafety and health implications of the request if any. Also, theeffect on the employee if the application is not granted, and theimpact of the accommodation on other employees with a differentbelief or religion (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2013).
Eventhough freedom of religion is a fundamental right in most countries,the extent of which this freedom should be enjoyed in public placelike in places of employment is a subject of constant debate.According to Vickers (2015), some research findings report thatpeople feel that workplaces should be neutral and religion shouldremain as a private matter. The legal framework that protectsreligious rights is also human rights provisions which protect thefreedom of every group and individual. An individual can bediscriminated directly or indirectly based on religion. Directdiscrimination is when a person is not treated fairly because oftheir religion such as not getting a job position because of yourreligion (Vickers, 2015). Indirect discrimination is where thepolicies or practices put a person who is of a specific religion at adisadvantage in comparison to other people involved. Frequentconflict or discussions about religious practices at work involvedress codes, exclusion from certain duties, restriction to sharereligious beliefs, and taking time off for religious observations(Vickers, 2015).
Dresscodes are the most common conflict that arises from businessrequirements and employees’ religious requirements. Some workplaceshave strict restrictions on wearing religious symbols likeheadscarves or may require employees to wear workplace uniforms thatare against their religious dress codes. Some cases result from thisconflict (Vickers, 2015). Most employers result to accommodatingthese religious beliefs by introducing uniforms that consider theemployees’ religious needs without hurting the employer’soperational requirements. However, there are cases where employersprovide a good reason for not allowing employees to wear thereligious symbols such as safety and health requirements. Time off isanother source of conflict since this one way employees canparticipate in their religious practices by taking time off fromwork. When an employer refuses to grant religious employeespermission, this puts them at a disadvantage (Vickers, 2015). Assuch, the employer can take the balancing approach with this matter.To do so, the employer needs clarity on the number of days that theemployee will engage in their religious practices and will take timeout of work to meet these obligations. In cases where the number ofdays are many and can cause the business to suffer, the employer isallowed to deny the employee permission after exploring everyfeasible option. This may include time off to participate in dailyprayers especially for Muslim employees (Anti-Defamation League,2015).
Implicationsof the Laws on Religious Practices in School
Thefirst Amendment in United States law guarantees that every personenjoys the freedom to believe in a religion of their choice or not tobelieve and openly observe their faith without any interference. Thislaw is observed in all institutions in the country including publicschools.
Accordingto the National Coalition against Censorship (2017), theestablishment clause ensures a separation of church and state. Thislaw means that the government remains neutral on matters related toreligion to allow the expression of different religious beliefs. Theschool is one of the places where this clause is tested. For theschool principals, teachers, administrators, and other personnel itmeans that they cannot advance or prevent any religion. They cannotsuggest that a particular religion is superior, they cannot suggestthat religion is superior to a secular life and they cannot beantagonistic to a particular religion or secularism (NationalCoalition against Censorship, 2017). However, this does not mean thatthe schools should not teach religion especially since the Holy Bookscan be used to study ethics, civilization, and history. Therefore,schools are allowed to teach about the components of various faiths,teach religion and discuss its influence on history, science,literature and other fields.
TheUnited States Department of Education has offered guidelines on theexpression of religious beliefs in schools. The guidelines reinforcethe obligations of the school officials as discussed above (TASBLegal Services, 2014). The school is not allowed to prevent studentsfrom expressing their religious beliefs. However, they can also notdiscriminate against the individual expression of religious beliefsamong students. The students should be allowed to engage in religiousdiscussions and activities like they would with other activities.Different schools have their policies about religious expression andhow they cater to students, parents, and teachers of diversecommunities. Organized prayers in the school are unconstitutional,and it is only allowed if it is private or conducted voluntarily by astudent. Students are allowed to engage in prayer when it isvoluntary and does not interrupt the school’s activities(Anti-Defamation League, 2012). Students are also allowed to engagewith their fellow students in religious activities and to discussreligious topics as long as they so not disrupt the school’sactivities. However, it is important that students initiate all thesereligious activities and that the schools’ employees do notparticipate in such activities.
Ina school setting, teachers are not allowed to pray with theirstudents or in their presence. Teachers are viewed as representativesof the school, and their beliefs can be easily be interpreted asthose of the school. Teachers have the right to say prayers but thiscurtailed to ensure that the school does not violate theEstablishment Clause (TASB Legal Services, 2014). Teachers hold ahigh status in the institution, and the students are seen as areceptive audience who can be easily influenced by the teachers’actions. In summary, the law allows for students to carry out theirreligious practices as far as they do not disrupt the institution’sactivities. However, it is evident in differentiating “teachingreligion” and “teaching about religion.” Learning aboutreligion is allowed since the aim is to educate students about therole of religion in the cultural, historical, social, and literaldevelopment of the country. In this context, religion is discussed ina neutral and factual way (Anti-Defamation League, 2012). On theother hand, “teaching religion” is prohibited since it involvespromoting or denigrating a religion. By having this distinction, thelaw also protects the students that do not subscribe to any religionand at the same time give the other a chance to express their beliefs(Anti-Defamation League, 2012).
Dressingcan be a form of religious practice. The First Amendment requiresthat public schools implement a mandatory dress code policy. However,there are exemptions from these policies that allow students to dressin their religious clothes such as headscarves. Public schools arerequired to accommodate the religious needs of their studentsregarding the religious clothing. However, the uniform policy mustcomply with the free speech clause of the First Amendment and must beneutral to any religion (Anti-Defamation League, 2012).
Ifa school implements a uniform policy that does not seem neutral toreligion in comparison to secular activity, then this institution isexpected to demonstrate the narrow perspective used in the policy.For instance, if the policy targets a specific religion or aparticular religious practice for harsh treatment. Also, if thepolicy includes secular accommodations like a medical exemption butleaves out exemptions for religious practices or if the policy onlytargets religious conduct but ignores worldly behavior(Anti-Defamation League, 2012). Therefore, the law requires thatschools implement well-thought-out dress code policies that includeboth secular and religious practices and that are not unfair to anyreligion or secular practices unless they are considered illegal.
Thedecision by the lower courts are dependent on the precedence set inthe Hardison and Philbrook cases by the Supreme Court. There is needto determine what makes up religious accommodation and undue hardshipunder Title VII. An employee’s notice of the need for religiousaccommodation has become a major point for the courts. These caseshave a number of implication on the employer. Communication hasbecome an important factor for both the employer and the employee forthem to establish a rapport and it should start during the interviewprocess (Weiss,2015).Employers can implement a process where they inform applicants of theworkplace policies that could conflict with the applicants’religious beliefs. Since employers should not use the applicant’sreligion a deciding factor when choosing who to hire, employers canestablish new policies or revise their existing policies. There arevarious ways employers can use to inform their current and futureemployees of key requirements for a job position and inquire whetherthey need religious accommodation.Studies have linked religious accommodation to employees’ morale.The need for religious accommodation continues to increase in theworkplace and employers are faced with the issue of employees’moral after studies linked morale to employees’ performance.Employers are faced with a dilemma whether to provide religiousaccommodation at the risk of alienating some of their employees ordeny this accommodation at the risk of lawsuits. The Supreme Courtobserves that religious accommodation do impact other co-workers indifferent ways. Employees are expected to shoulder part of the burdenbrought about by accommodation regardless of whether it is unfair,annoying or inconvenient (Flake,2014).
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