Oregon and Tennessee Enact Religious Freedom Acts
Oregon Governor, Ted Kulongoski, quietly signed Senate Bill 786, the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act on Thursday, July 16, 2009. The bill establishes protections for employees needing “holy day” and “religious apparel” accommodations in the workplace. By bringing greater clarity to what constitutes an “undue hardship” for businesses, it reduces the threat of litigation for employers and accommodates the religious beliefs and practices of people of all faiths.
The Oregon bill was the culmination of a long term cooperative effort between Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Hunt, and the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA), under the leadership of its president, Greg Hamilton. The Church State Council and the North American Religious Liberty Association-West give thanks to God and congratulate Greg Hamilton, Rhonda Bolton (Administrative Assistant), and many others from NRLA for their vision and determined efforts in working to help bring this bill to fruition. (For more information on the specifics of the bill and its history go to http://www.nrla.com/.)
Two weeks prior to Oregon, Tennessee’s governor enacted House Bill 1598, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on July 1, 2009. The bill addresses the right to freely exercise one’s religious faith under the state constitution, and restores for the State of Tennessee the “compelling governmental interest” and the “least restrictive means” standards that were diminished by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Smith ruling that a generally applicable law did not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion when no compelling state interest was essential to the law.
The Tennessee bill establishes a broader basis for constitutionally protecting a wide array of religious beliefs and practices in contrast to the more narrow Title VII workplace focus of the Oregon bill. This difference is due to the political climate of each state and the possible outcomes that can be achieved in each. The federal Workplace Freedom of Religion Act (WFRA) has stalled in Congress for a handful of years due to the strength and influence of particular lobby interests and the reluctance of legislators to go contrary to their concerns.