Saturday, September 05, 2015

Can One's Religious Beliefs Excuse Them From Their Job?

Photo Credit: King County, WA
What is going on in Kentucky concerning county clerk Kim Davis issuing marriage licenses is an important matter. It is likely, though, that few of us (including me) have a deep understanding of how the law works in these types of cases.

I would suspect that many of us have strong biases in this particular situation and are likely primarily focused on "our side" winning and not necessarily attuned to what the law requires.

A country that values religious freedom as well as the civil rights of all its citizens ensures that cases like this bring with it many questions. This is not a simple matter.

I found this article from Eugene Volokh in The Washington Post to be helpful for me in grasping some of the legal issues related to this case. Things are not "cut and dry" here but Volokh's insights helped me in gaining a greater sense of the issues at play.

Here's a highlight:
"Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, both public and private employers have a duty to exempt religious employees from generally applicable work rules, so long as this won’t create an “undue hardship,” meaning more than a modest cost, on the employer. If the employees can be accommodated in a way that would let the job still get done without much burden on the employer, coworkers, and customers — for instance by switching the employee’s assignments with another employee or by otherwise slightly changing the job duties — then the employer must accommodate them. (The Muslim flight attendant I mentioned above, for instance, claims that she has always been able to work out arrangements under which the other flight attendant serves the alcohol instead of her.) 
Thus, for instance, in all the cases I mentioned in the numbered list above, the religious objectors got an accommodation, whether in court or as a result of the employer’s settling a lawsuit brought by the EEOC. Likewise, the EEOC is currently litigating a case in which it claims that a trucking company must accommodate a Muslim employee’s religious objections to transporting alcohol, and the court has indeed concluded that the employer had a duty to accommodate such objections. But if the accommodation would have been quite difficult or expensive (beyond the inevitable cost that always come when rearranging tasks), then the employer wouldn’t have had to provide it. 
Now I’m not saying this to praise the law, or to claim that it’s demanded by vital principles of religious principles. One can certainly argue against this approach, especially as applied to private employers, but also as applied to the government. 
The government is barred by the Free Exercise Clause from discriminating based on religion, but the government has no constitutional duty to give religious objectors special exemptions from generally applicable rules. Maybe it (and private employers) shouldn’t have such a statutory duty, either. But my point so far has been simply to describe the American legal rule as it actually is, and as it has been for over 40 years (since the religious accommodation provisions were enacted in the 1972 amendments to Title VII)."
(HT: @spulliam for the article link)

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