PAMELA Rodriguez was in tears. A "born-again" Christian who is a
social worker in Los Angeles, Ms. Rodriguez was asked by a welfare
client for a voucher to fund an abortion. Feeling she could not
participate, Rodriguez lined up two colleagues to issue the voucher
Rodriguez's boss, however, was unsympathetic to her religious
concerns. Issue the voucher, she told her, or face disciplinary
action. She did so - but also filed suit against Los Angeles County
for religious discrimination.
The Rodriguez suit is one of a growing number of
religious-discrimination claims arising in the workplace.
The trend is being driven in part by an increasing desire among
workers to pray quietly, request religious holidays, and keep
religious literature at the office - as well as a growing awareness
of their rights to do so.
Recent cases range from a pizza delivery woman fired because she
would not give up her Sunday school class to a prison teacher let
go for keeping a Bible on his desk. The Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission in Washington reports a 31 percent increase
in religious-discrimination complaints since 1990 as employees and
employers add religious issues to the more familiar areas of race
and gender discrimination. Yet Congress, the courts, and federal
agencies are facing an area of civil rights law that is still quite
Workplace issues are not a main focus of the conservative
religious liberty movement in America, which has concentrated on
overturning laws and Supreme Court decisions concerning abortion,
and the separation of church and state.
By contrast, evangelicals, religious liberals, and Jewish and
Muslim groups are becoming more assertive on workplace rights, and
have championed anti-discrimination and religious accommodation
The Sabbath day
Time off for Sabbath, or religious holidays, tops the list of
employee grievances. Under current law, an employer does not have
to accommodate an employee's religious plea if doing so creates an
"undue hardship" for the business. What persons of faith are
discovering, however, is that an employer must "prove" such
"If an employer just comes out and says 'Sorry, we have a policy
about the Sabbath,' that is not compliance," says Richard Foltin of
the American Jewish Committee in Washington.
A greater awareness of civil rights, rather than an increase in
discrimination, is bringing out the devout, say advocates. Many
cases are now settled by mediation, says Ann-Marie Amiel of the
Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va., which offers legal
assistance to religious groups.
"Religious employees haven't realized until now that they have
the same rights as the non-religious employee," she says. …