Comments from Alan J. Reinach, Esq on signing of AB 1964
Governor Jerry Brown signs California Workplace Religious Freedom Act!
Sunday, September 09, 2012
The North American Punjabi Association conducted a rally on Saturday at the California State Capitol in memory of the victims of the temple massacre last month in Wisconsin, which became the occasion for Gov. Jerry Brown to publicly sign two bills sponsored by the Sikh Coalition, bills seeking to remedy religious bigotry and discrimination.
Hundreds of Sikh Americans, from as far away as Texas, Colorado and Washington, gathered to pay their respects to those who died in Wisconsin. Speakers invoked the memory of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Nelson Mandela, in preaching peace, the need to combat hatred and intolerance, and upholding the ideal of an America where all have equal rights under the law.
The climax of the rally was the appearance of Governor Jerry Brown, who spoke passionately about how America is built on immigration, with some 113 languages spoken in California alone. “Breaking down prejudice is something you’ve got to do every day,” said Brown, as he announced his intention to sign two bills. He talked about his own grandfather, who came to California in 1852 from Germany, and spoke no English, and drove a stagecoach from Placerville, which was then known as Hangtown.
The first bill signed by Brown was AB 1964, authored by Mariko Yamada [D-Davis], whose district will include the Napa Valley and Pacific Union College next year. AB 1964 was numbered after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which first outlawed employment discrimination. AB 1964 included three key provisions: first, it clarified that workers have the right to express their faith in their dress and appearance, for example, wearing beards and turbans as Sikh men do; the Jewish yarmulke, or the Muslim hijab. Second, the bill clarified that an employer is justified in denying a religious accommodation only if the accommodation would result in a significant difficulty or expense to the company.
Seventh-day Adventists have been working tirelessly but so far unsuccessfully to enact this provision into Federal law, but have been unable to achieve agreement with the ACLU on a compromise as to how this right of religious accommodation would interact with the rights of others. In California, we were able to obtain the strong support of the ACLU by agreeing that an employer need not violate civil rights laws in order to provide religious accommodation.
The third provision in the bill makes it unlawful to segregate workers who express their faith in their appearance. There have been numerous cases where companies have shunted workers away from the public because of their appearance. In testimony before the Asasembly Judiciary Committee, bill author Mariko Yamada referred to the bill as the “Rosa Parks bill of the 21st century,” because no longer would workers be sent to the back of the store to languish in the stockroom, rather than be allowed to work with customers in the front of the store.
“Score one for the right to be a human being when you go to work,” remarked Alan J. Reinach, Esq., Executive Director of the Church State Council, who provided both support and leadership in drafting and negotiating bill language, and coordinating the coalition promoting the bill. “Too many companies treat their workers like numbers, not people,” observes Reinach. “’AB 1964 is an important step in reminding companies that employees are human, and they do not leave their faith and values at home when they come to work. Too often, companies forget that the integrity and compassion fostered by workers’ religion greatly enhances their value as employees. Would be great if this started a new trend where workers are valued, not just treated like interchangeable parts of an inhuman machine. After all, corporations are supposed to be “persons” now, at least that’s what the Supreme Court said!”
The second bill signed by Governor Brown will continue the process of revising the state’s history curriculum standards to include teaching about the history and contribution of Sikh Americans in California. This is yet another step in combating intolerance with education and understanding.
“We have begun an important and valuable friendship with the Sikh community,” reports Dennis Seaton, Government Relations Director for the Church State Council. “When I participated in a Sikh sponsored lobby day in August, I was made an honorary Sikh. These are people who really understand what it means to be an American, and cherish the American ideal. They preach peace, and are very active in community service. Sikhs are wonderful friends and neighbors.”
A large coalition supported AB 1964, including a variety of religious groups – American Jewish Committee, Agudath Israel of California, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hindu-American Foundation together with the Sikh Coalition, the bill’s sponsor, and the Church State Council, a Seventh-day Adventist organization.
Key civil rights organizations that supported the bill include: American Civil Liberties Union, California Employment Lawyers Association [“CELA”], California Immigrant Policy Center, Consumer Attorneys of California, Japanese American Citizens League and the North American Religious Liberty Association -- West. Labor organizations also supported the bill, including: AFSCME, AFL-CIO, California Nurses Association.
“AB 1964 will send a clear signal
to companies that they have to provide religious accommodation to their workers,”
concludes Alan J. Reinach, Esq. “Hopefully, fewer Californians will lose their
jobs, and Seventh-day Adventists will be more secure in their right to keep
holy the Sabbath day.”