Center for Islamic Pluralism Joins Other Faith Groups on Change in U.S. Law on Religious Accommodation
The Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) has joined six Jewish, two Protestant, and two Sikh religious bodies in commenting on recent arguments over federal protection for accommodation of religious convictions in a workplace environment.
CIP includes practitioners in workplace law and is the only Muslim group to have consistently joined other faith communities in dealing with this important issue of public policy.
* * *
April 7, 2009
Office of Public Health and Science
Re: 45 CFR part 88, RIN 0991-AB49 – Rescission Proposal; Proposed Rule on "Rescission of the Regulation Entitled 'Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law'", as published at 74 Fed. Reg. 10207 (March 10, 2009)
Dear Sir or Madam:
We represent a diverse group of religious and civil rights organizations with divergent views on the Final Rule promulgated at the end of last year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at 73 Fed. Reg. 78072 (Dec. 19, 2008) (the "Rule"), and the agency's more recent proposal to rescind that Rule, 74 Fed. Reg. 10207 (March 10, 2009). Notwithstanding those differences, we join together today to express our disagreement with the claim some have made that the protection afforded under the "religious accommodation" requirement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is adequate to safeguard individuals who require accommodation in the workplace of religious belief and practice from religious discrimination.
By virtue of court decisions interpreting Title VII's religious accommodation provisions, those safeguards have too often proven anemic in protecting religious belief and practice in the workplace. In Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), the Supreme Court narrowly interpreted Title VII's religious accommodation requirement in holding that an employer need not provide such an accommodation to an employee if it would impose more than a de minimis burden on the employer. That extremely low standard, as well as other judicial interpretations of the religious accommodation requirement, often make it exceedingly and unnecessarily difficult for employees to prevail in workplace religious accommodation cases.
For this reason, we have sought, and continue to seek, an amendment to Title VII that will strengthen the level of protection for employees, including those seeking accommodation of a religious objection to a particular work duty. The amendment will do this by raising the burden an employer must experience before being relieved of the statutory duty to accommodate. Even then, a balancing test will remain in place that spells out, and takes into account, the legitimate interests of employers and third parties.
Toward that end, we are gratified that President Obama, during his election campaign, recognized the need for enhancing the religious accommodation requirement: "I believe firmly that employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their employees' religious practices. I would support carefully drafted legislation that strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect religious freedom in the workplace."
We appreciate the opportunity to comment.
Agudath Israel of America
 Sections 701(j) and 703 of Title VII, codified as 42 U.S.C.