ACLU Urges House Committee to Fix Flawed Workplace Religious Freedom Act

February 12, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions subcommittee of the House Education & Labor Committee to fix the flawed Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA). As written in the 110th Congress, the legislation threatens the personal and civil rights of religious and racial minorities, women, LGBT individuals, and persons seeking reproductive health care.

The stated goal of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act is to revise and strengthen existing requirements on employers to accommodate the religious practices of their employees. However, the current language may have a much broader impact than intended, permitting employees to claim that they do not have to comply with state or local civil rights laws.

The current WRFA would strengthen the hand of police officers who want to pick and choose who they will protect, as well as emergency health care workers and mental health counselors who could abandon patients because their care conflicts with the worker’s religious beliefs. This legislation would make it significantly harder to get health or safety information or services. Employees would be even more likely to claim that their religion prohibits them from providing contraceptive care or HIV prevention counseling – even if the employer has no one else to provide those services. In most cases, the courts have correctly rejected these claims. The current WRFA language, however, is designed to protect these individual’s dangerous actions.

Said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office: “The Workplace Religious Freedom Act would allow employees, for the first time since the Civil Rights Act of 1967, to use civil rights as a weapon against others. Passing this bill without the needed fixes will jeopardize not only our rights, but also our public safety and access to health care. Civil rights protections are meant to be a shield, not a sword.

“Congress can, and should, pass legislation tightly focused on strengthening federal requirements that employers accommodate workplace scheduling changes so employees can observe religious holidays, or permit them to wear religious clothing, beards or hairstyles. These two areas account for nearly three-fourths of all the religious accommodation claims rejected by federal courts in the past 25 years. A narrowly tailored bill could address these issues without any of the completely avoidable harm the WRFA could cause if passed as written.”

The ACLU’s letter to Congress on this legislation is available at: /religion/frb/29127leg20070320.html

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