Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Religion Clouding Workplace Bias Issues

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Religion Clouding Workplace Bias Issues

Article excerpt

When Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her, more women came forward with similar stories.

Now, as conservative religious groups have become more politically active -- and consequently more visible -- employees are more eager to take on what they see as religious discrimination at work.

Traditionally, religious discrimination complaints have focused on accommodation issues, such as not getting time off from work to attend religious services or being forbidden from wearing religious symbols. But a new wrinkle has developed in religious discrimination cases. Suddenly, workers are complaining that company policies that prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians conflict with their religious beliefs. The issue has surfaced because more companies are offering same- sex domestic partner benefits, in addition to their pledges against discrimination. Those moves, which have come largely from America's biggest employers, which are seeking to attract a diverse group of employees, have been applauded by the gay and lesbian community. People derive their beliefs on sexual behavior based on their religious beliefs, said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the Liberty Legal Institute, a religious freedom and First Amendment group in Dallas. It's become politically correct to be tolerant of gays and lesbians, but people who feel homosexuality is against biblical teachings are coming forward, Shackelford said. Some are being punished for their opinions, which is a violation of the laws that forbid religious discrimination. That comes as a surprise to many employers who never realized that their new policies could spawn a religious discrimination complaint, he said. Complaints are popping up when an employee says something opposing the new policy or quotes scripture and, suddenly, the company comes down on them like they've made a racist or sexist remark, Shackelford said. The Liberty Legal Institute is representing a former vice president of then-Texas Commerce Bank in San Antonio (now Chase Bank of Texas) who Shackelford said was fired a month after she said in a bank diversity training seminar that she opposed its new policy prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians. …

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