On December 17, 2012 Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced “The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2013” (S.3686) which would Amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of religion specifically in the areas of “garb, grooming, and scheduling.”
In 2005, in a rarely seen bipartisan effort, Sen. Kerry joined with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) to introduce the Senate version and it was concurrently introduced in the House of Representatives by Mark Souder (R-IN), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) also lined up in support.
Earlier versions of the legislation would have required employers to make reasonable accommodation for an undefined range of religious practices and observances. While a wide range of religious groups welcomed the legislation, the ACLU and some Chambers of Commerce were concerned that the bill could be too broadly construed and require employers to accommodate practices that have previously been rejected by the courts. Examples included police officers who had refused to protect abortion clinics on religious grounds and employee counselors who refused to counsel gay and lesbian workers.
The federal bill has been reintroduced since 2005 but it has not regained its previous traction at the federal level. However, since then several states, including Oregon and California have passed laws that address cases that most commonly arise involving religious holy day observance and religious dress and grooming.
So far there are no co-sponsors listed on the bill. If you support the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, please contact your senator and ask that they co-sponsor S.3686. If Sen. Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State and leaves the Senate, as expected, another senator will be needed to move the proposed legislation forward.
We will continue to watch the progress of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2013.