Freedom at Work Still Under Fire
By Michael D. Peabody, Esq.
Just a few days ago, Jason joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church through an evangelistic series. In his mid-20s, he has been married two years, and he and his wife have a newborn baby. His wife is glad that he is taking his spiritual life a bit more seriously, but ultimately thinks he is going through a "crazy phase" that will come to a screeching halt in a few months when he moves onto the next big thing.
Monday morning, Jason walked to the factory where he has worked for the past three years, and his boss told him that the schedule has changed. Now he will be working the graveyard shift beginning late Friday night and ending Saturday morning. When he gives a mild protest, his boss says, "You do want this job, don't you?"
Jason is faced with a serious choice — will he stand for his faith or take the easy path of compromise? If he loses his job, his family will suffer. Living check-to-check has been hard, and now he needs to explain to his wife why he is willing to risk their house for his faith.
Every week, the Pacific Union Conference Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty gets calls from people facing these problems. We work closely with companies to find alternatives that will help them meet their production objectives while upholding the right of individuals to practice their faith. While we often find workable solutions with companies that earnestly try to do the right thing, other times companies see requests for accommodation as a threat and refuse to make any accommodation.
In these cases, we often face an increasingly difficult battle in convincing companies' attorneys that they are required by law to make a reasonable attempt to accommodate their religious employees, and as a result, more and more companies are flat-out refusing to accommodate.
In 1972, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was modified to require all companies with 16 or more employees to make religious accommodation unless the cost was prohibitive. The Supreme Court gutted this law in 1977, allowing employers to be exempt from this requirement if it cost the employer a miniscule amount.
The Workplace Religious Freedom Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1997 to require accommodation unless there was "significant difficulty or expense," but business interests prevailed and the bill failed. The bill was reintroduced, supported by a broad religious coalition of Christian groups, including Seventh-day Adventists, and Islamic, Jewish, and Sikh organizations, but it likewise failed to pass either the House or the Senate despite our best efforts.
On March 9, 2007, the bill was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2007 is our top legislative priority because when it passes, it will mean that few people like Jason will be forced to choose between their faith and their job.
You can help get this vital piece of legislation passed. Learn more at www.churchstate.org.