No employee should be allowed to discriminate against or harass their coworkers or customers simply because they can claim a religious reason for discriminating. And certainly no police officer, health care worker or counselor should ever be able to jeopardize another person's health or safety by claiming a religious reason for refusing to do his or her job.
But the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (S. 893) introduced by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) would do just that. It is so poorly written that it could harm civil rights protections -- and make health care less accessible, more discriminatory and riskier.
The Santorum legislation would make a few good changes in the law to provide additional help for employees seeking to take time off for religious observances or to wear religious clothing at work. But the bill is so sloppily drafted that it will have harmful -- and potentially dangerous -- effects on other rights.
The supporters of this legislation are trying to rush it to the Senate floor without even a single hearing on its current language. This sort of sneak attack on our civil rights must not be tolerated!
Take action! Urge your Senators to oppose this harmful and overreaching legislation.
The Santorum legislation could gut employer's nondiscrimination policies that go beyond the minimum that federal law requires. Many employers have their own civil rights policies and employee training that provide more protection than the law minimally requires against racial, sexual and religious harassment--and include categories such as sexual orientation and marital status. Employees could use the Santorum bill to claim that their religion requires them to flout these civil rights policies. The bill could also bolster the claims of employees that they do not have to comply with state and local civil rights laws that protect against sexual orientation or marital status discrimination.
This bill would harm the health and safety of people seeking health care. The Santorum legislation would strengthen the hand of police officers who want to pick and choose who they will protect, and emergency health care workers and mental health counselors who could abandon patients because their care conflicts with the worker's religious beliefs. A nurse who was employed in a maternity ward sued after she was fired because she refused on religious grounds to scrub for an emergency caesarian section and left a woman ""standing in a pool of blood"" for 30 minutes. In another case, a police officer sued after he was fired because he refused to guard an abortion clinic. The courts have correctly rejected these claims. The Santorum legislation, however, is designed to protect these individual's dangerous actions.
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.