Legal overview

The First Amendment of the U. S. constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are the primary federal laws that deal with the combination of religious freedom and employment law. The U. S Constitution has provided freedom of religion since the inception of the country. According to these Federal laws one is allowed to practice, exercise, and even discuss his or her religion in their workplace without the threat of retribution. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

Section 701(j) of the Act, deals with religious discrimination and requires that an employer make reasonable accommodation to the religious practices and observances of its employees, absent undue hardship to that employer. The inclusion of the section is the result of the 1972 amendments to the statue. According to the U. S. Supreme Court, a religious belief is any sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God in many religions.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC ) has taken this definition further, declaring that "religion" includes moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right or wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. "The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group employee professes to belong to may not accept such belief does not preclude the belief from constituting a religious belief for purposes of the law. Even atheism is considered a religious belief.

However, cultural and political beliefs usually are not protected as religion. " (Bland, 1999) In the matter of Trans World Airlines V. Hardison, 432 US 62 (1977), the Supreme court ruled that accommodations need not violate collectively bargained seniority rights, represent an unfair imposition on an employee's coworkers, or otherwise alter prudent business judgment. In Brener V. Diagnostic Center Hospital: the Fifth Circuit emphasized the reasonable aspect of reasonable accommodation on both employer and employees to cooperate with each other.

Although the statutory burden to accommodate rests with the employer, the employee has a correlative duty to make a good faith attempt to satisfy his (or her) needs through means offered by the employer. According to Fair Employment Practices Guidelines, the courts prefer not to interpret religious beliefs, observances, or practices. They usually address these issues on the assumption that the religious belief is genuine. They take the employee's word for it. This is true even if an employee who has been a faithful follower of one religion suddenly adopts a new one.

The EEOC has as its primary task the administrative enforcement of the Title VII. The EEOC has issued general guidelines requiring employers to respond to their workers' religious practices with "reasonable accommodation" as long as it does not pose an "undue hardship" on the company. According to the EEOC:The employer has an obligation to reasonably accommodate the individual's religious practice. A refusal to accommodate is justified only when an employer… can demonstrate that undue hardship would in fact result from each available alternative method of accommodation.

 When there is more than one means of accommodation, which would not cause undue hardship, the employer… must offer the alternative which least disadvantages the individual with respect to his or her employment opportunities. In our state, the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) protects people from discrimination based on certain personal characteristics, which are also called protected classes.

One of these characteristics is religion. According to their official site web-site, (http://www. humanrights. state. mn.us/rights_yours), the following constitute a violation of the Human Rights Act concerning religion and employment in Minnesota:  Employers refuse to hire, discharge, or discriminate with respect to benefits or conditions of employment; Labor organizations deny membership, fail to represent members, and fail to refer for jobs, or otherwise treat members differently. * Employment agencies reject job applications, fail or refuse to refer for employment, or comply with requests to screen or refer applicants on a discriminatory basis.