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Workplace Religious Freedom Act

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The bipartisan Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) was introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) and Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) on March 17, 2005, and in the House of Representatives by Representatives Mark Souder (R-IN), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and Anthony Weiner (D-NY). If passed, this legislation would require employers to make reasonable accommodation for an employee's religious practice or observance, such as holy days (e.g. Jewish Sabbath observances).

Other supporters of the bill include Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

This legislation has garnered the diverse support of various religious groups including, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Council of Churches, the North American Council for Muslim Women, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Council on American Islamic Relations, B'nai B'rith International, the American Jewish Committee, Agudath Israel of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other groups.

The ACLU and some Chambers of Commerce have come out against the act. The ACLU supports a "narrowly tailored" bill "focused on strengthening the federal requirements imposed on employers to accommodate workplace scheduling changes for the observation of religious holidays and the wearing of religious clothing or a beard or hairstyle." They object to the WRFA on the grounds that it is overly broad, and could potentially erode civil rights by permitting workplace religious-freedom claims that have been previously rejected by the courts. For example, the courts have rejected refusals by employee counselers to counsel gay and lesbian workers, refusals by police officers to protect abortion clinics, and a social worker's decision to use Bible readings and exorcism to treat mental-health problems in prison inmates. [1] Because the WRFA changes the legal criteria for allowed restrictions on workplace religious activities to "primarily financial" grounds in which "temporary or tangential" religious behavior is allowed, the ACLU argues that such cases may be allowed by future courts under WRFA.

References

  1. http://www.aclu.org/religion/frb/16224leg20040602.html

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