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Religious Liberty Update

An unstable economy, debates about nationalized health care, a new Supreme Court justice, and many other factors have made this one of the most interesting few months for liberty advocates and court watchers alike.

There have been two major legislative victories including the passage of the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA). Some people are getting these bills confused, which is understandable given the alphabet soup that defines the legislation (RFRA and WRFA).

The Tennessee law (HB 1598) requires the state and its local governments to prove that a law meets a “compelling state interest” if a law inadvertently but adversely affects people of faith. This will protect Tennessee citizens from the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990). The U.S. Congress passed a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act but the Supreme Court overturned it in a case called City of Boerne v. Flores (1997). Tennessee joins 15 other states in passing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Oregon law (SB 785) requires Oregon employers to make a reasonable attempt to accommodate religious employees who request time off for religious observances or who need to wear certain garb. In other words, Oregon employer’s must take the religious beliefs of their employees seriously and need to have a good reason before making employees choose between their faith and their jobs. This is designed to remedy the Supreme Court’s decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison (1977) where the Court said that an employer did not have to accommodate if it could prove it would incur the most minimal cost or expense. The Hardison case gave many employers an unreasonable excuse to deny religious accommodation, and many employers even had unwritten policies against accommodating religious requests.

At a national level, the U.S. Congress has considered a Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) for the past few years that would include every type of potential conflict between one’ sfaith and his or her job (not just holy days or dress), but some groups including the ACLU have said that this is too broad an approach because employers could be potentially sued for failing to accommodate any type of religious belief, even if that belief could create a hostile work environment. The Oregon approach, in contrast, provides clarity for business owners and employees because it creates clear expectations for accommodation.

In Oregon, should issues arise in other forms of accommodation, employees can rely on existing rights and seek to analogize their situations to the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have made RLTV a primary online destination for people searching for the latest news and information about liberty of conscience. Your help in providing articles, news tips, and other resources has been instrumental in making RLTV a tremendous success in the last year.

Reprinted with premission from Religious

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