In Defense of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act: Protecting the Unprotected without Sanctifying the Workplace

By Morgan, James F. | Labor Law Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

In Defense of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act: Protecting the Unprotected without Sanctifying the Workplace

Morgan, James F., Labor Law Journal

"The twenty-first century... is dawning as a century of religion."1

Reflecting a decades-long ethos, the prevailing business culture in the United States views negatively the mixing of religion with work. As a result, employees commonly believe they should not bring expressions of their faith to the workplace. Many further surmise that the law restricts workers from practicing aspects of their religion while at work, even though Congress expressly mandated that employers accommodate the religious needs of workers in 1972. Unfortunately, narrow judicial interpretations during the past 30 years have thwarted congressional efforts to assure that religious workers-those who desire to express their religious or spiritual beliefs at work-are accommodated. The plight of the religious employee is now coming to the public policy foreground. In response to emboldened religious workers and ever-increasing religious pluralism, Congress is considering legislation aimed at establishing unequivocally the rights of employees who respectfully wish to bring aspects of their faith to work.

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2003 (WRFA)2 was introduced with co-sponsors stretching the ideological gamut from Republican Senators Rick Santorum and Orrin Hatch to Democratic Senators john Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton.3 The breadth of congressional support for the WRFA is compelling evidence that religious workers deserve a greater level of legal protection and that the issue of providing appropriate protection for workers respectfully expressing their faith at work resonates at a core level, distinct from the typical litany of issues that invoke partisan wrangling so common within the halls of Congress.

This article unabashedly states a case in favor of the WRFA, presenting a minority view in terms of current commentary on the subject.4 The first section examines society's failure during past decades to provide religious employees with adequate legal protection. The next section addresses the sea-change occurring at work today as employees become increasingly comfortable practicing their religions beliefs at work and as the religions brought to the workplace become more varied. Salient aspects of the WRFA, which was drafted in part to deal with a more religious-and a more religiously diverse-workplace, are then analyzed. The article concludes that a close examination of the WRFA reveals that its provisions are well-suited to offer needed protection for religious workers.


Current treatment of religious employees in the workplace reveals a tension between two branches of government. Congress provided initial support for the rights of religious workers in early civil rights legislation and later supplemented that backing with a more specific dictate. United States Supreme Court rulings interpreting the statutory provisions, on the other hand, appear to thwart the intent of Congress by severely restricting the rights of religious workers. Lower courts, struggling in recent years to follow Supreme Court edicts and also pay homage to the intent of Congress, have created a patchwork of decisions interpreting the rights of the religious employee. As a result, employees who desire to bring their faith to the workplace are left grappling with a significant number of judicial decisions that not only appear at variance with congressional intent, but also fail to recognize the need for adequate protection.

Congressional and administrative action

Congress recognized the importance of religion to workers in the United States by providing in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) that employers are forbidden to discriminate on the basis of an applicant's or employee's religion, which along with race, sex, national origin, and color, form the five prohibited bases for discrimination relating to work.5 With Congress focused primarily on proscribing racial discrimination in passing Title VII, legislative history pertaining to the religion category is scarce.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

In Defense of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act: Protecting the Unprotected without Sanctifying the Workplace


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?