Americans United Opposes Employee Religious Freedom Bill In Congress

Measure Would Open Door To Discrimination, Says AU's Lynn

A congressional measure intended to protect employees' religious freedom is written too broadly and could interfere with the rights of others, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
 
Earlier this month, Americans United sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to oppose the "Workplace Religious Freedom Act" (WRFA). The Act, S.893, would change Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require employers to comply with the religious needs of their workers unless the accommodation would cause "significant difficulty or expense."

Americans United charges that WRFA, as written, could undermine civil rights laws and employer nondiscrimination policies and harm the health or safety of people seeking medical care or other needed services.

The AU letter cites cases of a police officer refusing to guard an abortion clinic because of his religiously based opposition to reproductive rights and of a nurse who felt compelled because of her religious beliefs to tell an AIDS patient and his partner that "God doesn't like the homosexual."

"Americans United strongly believes that no employee should gain a right under Title VII, of all laws, to discriminate or harass other employees or third parties at American jobsites, even if the employee wanting the accommodation is motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs," wrote the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, in the June 10 letter to the Senate.

The workplace act has bipartisan support in Congress, but is a favorite of the Religious Right. Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice and other Religious Right legal groups have represented employees seeking religious accommodations that prove detrimental to other employees' civil rights. The proposed bill would give these groups a new legal tool in their ongoing crusade for greater influence over American life.

"Americans United strongly believes," wrote Lynn, "that Congress should not allow WRFA to be misused as a weapon against civil rights and other critical individual rights and therefore urges you to oppose the bill in its current form."

AU's letter urges the Senate to consider alternatives to the bill that would provide additional protections to employees' religious needs without interfering with the rights of others.

"Although Americans United urges you to oppose WRFA in its current form, we are committed to working for a reasonable consensus approach to legislation that will increase religious freedom in the workplace while ensuring that the legislation is not subject to abuse," Lynn concluded.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.