What State Shield for Church? Protect the Religious from Harassment

Article excerpt

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proposed guidelines to codify and clarify present law on harassment in the workplace. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender and national origin.

Harassment is one form of prohibited discrimination. It involves hostile and intimidating words or deeds that unreasonably interfere with an employee's work performance or job opportunities.

Some have called upon the EEOC to delete "religion" from the guidelines. They fear that employers might overreact and, in order to avoid a lawsuit, stifle religious expression in the workplace.

This position is itself an overreaction.

Taking religion out of the guidelines would send the wrong signal that the EEOC is less concerned about religious harassment than it is about harassment in other forms. This is particularly true since religion already is listed among the other protected categories in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Excluding religion from the guidelines would do more harm than good.

The prohibition on religious harassment serves to protect religion in the workplace. Religious bigotry and prejudice does exist. For example, in Weiss vs. United States, an employee was granted relief when a co-worker and supervisor hurled numerous offensive slurs about his Jewish heritage.

We should continue to make every effort to root out this kind of indefensible behavior from the workplace. The EEOC guidelines, with some improvement, will promote that effort.

Even though religious harassment should not be taken out of the guidelines, it is possible that employers will in some cases apply it in ways that limit or at least "chill" religious speech and practice. The Baptist Joint Committee wants to protect religious freedom by making the guidelines better.

We have urged the EEOC to amend the guidelines to make absolutely clear that they are intended to protect, not limit, religion and expressly to disavow any intent on the part of the EEOC to create a "religion-free zone" in the workplace. …