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Jun-10-2007 14:43printcomments

Religious Freedom Act Clears Oregon House

The bill preserves the right, for example, of a Muslim woman to wear a headdress and modest clothing.

Oregon state capitol
Oregon state capitol
Photo by: Bonnie King

(SALEM, Ore. ) - Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives championed a bill last week that, having received bipartisan approval in the House, will protect religious liberty for Oregon workers.

“The ability to worship and observe religious tenets free from recrimination is among the most fundamental of human rights,” said House Majority Leader Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County), chief sponsor of the bill. “This bill preserves those rights and reaffirms our commitment to a discrimination-free Oregon.”

As approved by the House, the bill would require employers to allow an employee to use vacation or other available leave for religious observance and to allow employees to wear religious clothing, take time off for a holy day, or take time off for religious observance, if doing so does not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business operation.

“People of faith in the workplace too often confront impossible conflicts between their employment obligations and their religious obligations,” said State Representative David Edwards (D-Hillsboro). “This bill goes a long way toward eliminating those conflicts.”

Democrats say the bill is needed because federal law falls short in two important areas: taking time of for religious observance, holy days or religious practice and wearing religious apparel in the workplace.

The bill preserves the right, for example, of a Muslim woman to wear a headdress and modest clothing, for a Jewish man to wear his yarmukle or for a devout Catholic woman to take Christmas Day off of work.

Current Labor Bureau statistics demonstrate a decline in age discrimination and flat discrimination complaints based on race or gender. Workplace religious discrimination—in sharp contrast--has risen by 82 percent in recent years.

“All religious people, whether Christians, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists or Orthodox Jews, ought to be concerned when employees with sincerely held and practiced religious beliefs must risk their job to practice their faith,” said State Representative Terry Beyer (D-Springfield).

“This vote ensures that all Oregonians, whatever their religious beliefs and practices, are protected from religious discrimination in the workplace,” said State Representative Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay).

The bill now moves to the Oregon Senate for consideration.

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Troy June 11, 2007 9:52 am (Pacific time)

Hi Neal, I can understand your concern but allow me to present another side. I do not follow a Christian religion myself. I was at work and like other Christians who wear crosses, I wore a small necklace with my religious symbol on it. I became the target of some insults and downright mean looks. My manager suggested I remove my necklace from my neck because it "disturbed others." Meanwhile, those crosses on others necks were allowed to remain even though it disturbed about 10 of us who follow my faith. This kind of bill would make that discrimination illegal. While I agree that religious PRACTICES should not be in the workplace, I do think that you should be permitted to wear the SYMBOLISM or clothing that your faith requires you to wear provided it does not violate indecency laws or impeads your ability to do the job or grow your beard to your faith's required length as long as it doesn't violate health codes or impead the business. Or even wear a simple necklace. The symbols of your faith or the clothing needs of your faith are one thing--religious practices are another. The bill allows you to use your vacation/personal time for it--and as long as it does not impede the business. It is that "out" that would prevent the example you provided of acts like the Santarian practice.

Neal Feldman June 10, 2007 9:43 pm (Pacific time)

I am not sure I really support this bill. It opens the door to some reallt ludicrous situations and really can have an adverse effect on anyone percieved as devoutly religious in that the employer will not hire them because their religion may be too much hassle to deal with, but they won't SAY that is why they are not hiring them making it nearly impossible to prove a discrimination claim against said employer. It is the same thing employers do today regarding the disabled, elderly, etc. Such discrimination is rampant but unfortunately unproveable. This bill just adds 'devoutly religious' to the list. How many business owners will hire islamics knowing they will need to allow them to do their bowing to Mecca thing every hour or so? What happens when a Santeria practitioner demands the right to baptise their desk in chicken blood or something similar? Religious practices belong in the home, the church and private aspects of people's lives. If doing a job is impossible with your religious requirements then you have a choice to make... don't take the job or don't sweat the religious practices that are incompatible with the job. You should not have the right to force your religious practices onto your employer. And to avoid having that done employers will just not hire those they think might do so and will move to terminate employment of anyone exercising this law. And the employee or applicant will find an impossible burden to meet to prove it.

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