Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Religious Discrimination

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Religious Discrimination

Article excerpt

Allowing spontaneous prayers and isolated references to Christian belief does not place an undue hardship on the conduct of a public employer's business, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled. The decision, which reversed a lower court ruling, revived a government supervisor's claim that religious discrimination played a part in his firing.

The case, Brown v. Polk County, Iowa,(7) arose in mid-1990, when the county administrator reprimanded Isaiah Brown, director of the information services department, for participating in activities at work that could be construed as promoting a religious organization. The reprimand directed Brown to cease using county resources in any way that could be perceived as supporting a religious activity or organization. Subsequently, the administrator told Brown to remove from his office all items having a religious connotation. Later that year, the administrator reprimanded Brown for a "lack of judgment" concerning financial constraints in the county's budget. Two weeks after that, Brown was asked to resign; when he refused, he was fired. Brown sued, alleging that the county had violated his constitutional guarantees of free exercise of religion, free speech, and equal protection.(8)

The district court found for the county, and a divided panel of the appeals court affirmed the decision. The same appeals court then granted a rehearing, en banc.(9) Circuit Judge Morris Sheppard Arnold delivered the opinion of the court that religious activities had played a part in the decision to fire Isaiah Brown. Even though Brown did not explicitly ask that his religious activities be accommodated, they were still protected under Title VII, declared Judge Arnold. But because the county did not attempt to accommodate them, it had to show that allowing Brown's religious activities would not have been possible without the government suffering "undue hardship. …

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