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New bill would protect workers’ religious rights

WASHINGTON (BP)–New legislation is needed to protect employees from having to choose between their faith and their job, two U.S. senators said Sept. 29 in announcing the introduction of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
The bill would amend federal civil rights legislation to restore Congress’ original intent in protecting religious freedom in the workplace. The Civil Rights Act requires an employer to accommodate in a reasonable manner an employee’s religious observance unless it would cause an “undue hardship,” but the bill’s backers say courts have misinterpreted this to mean anything more than a minimal effort.
As a result, some employees have lost their jobs because they refused for religious reasons to work on a particular day. Some also have been pressured not to wear apparel, such as a skullcap or head covering, required in their religion.
WRFA “will re-establish the principle that employers must really try to accommodate the religious needs of employees,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., at a Capitol Hill news conference. It also “is carefully crafted and strikes an appropriate balance” between religious expression and the concerns of business, Brownback said.
Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., who also was a prime sponsor of the legislation in the last session of Congress, said at the news conference the bill’s supporters are seeking a reasonableness that “really applies to all sides.”
The legislation, like the rest of the Civil Rights Act, would not apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
A coalition of nearly 40 organizations is working for the legislation’s adoption. Among the coalition members are the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Christian Legal Society, National Council of Churches, National Association of Evangelicals, Presbyterian Church (USA), Family Research Council and American Jewish Committee, as well as numerous other Jewish organizations.
Shannon Royce, the ERLC’s legislative counsel, told Baptist Press, “No person should be put in the position of choosing between God and supporting his family.”
The bill makes clear Congress’ “original intent of a more robust protection” for religious liberty, said BJC general counsel Brent Walker at the news conference.