What State Shield for Church? Proposals Harm Exercise of Religion

Article excerpt

If you think watching the federal government try to micromanage relationships between men and women is fun, just wait until it tries to micromanage relationships between men and God. That pleasure awaits us all as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission moves ahead with plans to devise a dramatic expansion of the laws governing various forms of harassment in the workplace.

Let's clear out the cobwebs first.

Religious discrimination is serious. The EEOC has clear statutory responsibility to enforce laws against prejudice in hiring, promotions and other aspects of employment because of an employee's religious affiliation or beliefs (or lack of same).

Harassment is also serious business. If an employer cannot refuse to hire an individual because he happens to be Jewish or Catholic, it makes little sense to permit that employer, or his agent, to make an employee miserable because of his Catholic or Jewish beliefs.

But the regulations proposed by the EEOC go much further than what the law or common sense requires. In fact, they have all the sensitivity of an armored personnel carrier in Waco.

Rather than rely on an unambiguous standard that requires a showing of significant and actual harm to an employee, the EEOC has set forth a legal framework that will make it of doubtful legality for any company employee to: place a calendar with a religious theme on his bulletin board; share her faith with co-workers around the doughnut cart at break time; invite another employee to come to his church or Bible study.

Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala., a former judge on the Alabama Supreme Court, has an eye for the real life situations that escape the broad-brush theorists at the EEOC. As he wrote acting chairman Tony Gallegos on May 2, "Would a foreman be able to wear a cross around the neck or on a lapel pin? Could a foreman sell tickets to a church pancake breakfast? Could an employee wear a yarmulke?"

As Heflin pointed out to Gallegos, EEOC's proposed regulations bar "intimidation" in the religious context without defining what is meant. …