WORKPLACE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM PASSES OREGON STATE SENATE!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at the Oregon Legislature, with the leadership of Senator David Nelson (R-Pendleton District) and the bipartisan support of Republicans and Democrats, we finally realized the fruits of our labor in the Senate passage of our Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, SB 786-A (see attached). The vote was 19-11. It is a bill that we, the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA), launched during the 2007 legislative session under the sponsorship of House Majority Leader Dave Hunt.
In 2009, Representative Hunt (D-Gladstone District) was elected by his Democratic Party Caucus peers to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives, which then placed our bill in an even more favorable position for passage. We have worked with Representative Hunt since the 2003 legislative session on other critical religious freedom legislation. So we have had a positive working relationship with him and his entire office staff-particularly Trevor Sleeman, his chief legislative aide-for some time now. Needless to say, it has paid off in a huge way, including our working relationship with a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic Senators and Representatives going back to the 1999 session. In reality, yesterday represented the fruits of years of seemingly futile, but ultimately valuable, labor. It has taken many failures, as well as substantive lessons learned, and the Lord’s guidance, to get this far.
What this bill does is clarify the responsibility of employers to accommodate the scheduling of leave time for the observation of religious holy days, or for the wearing of religious apparel in the workplace unless it poses a “significant difficulty or expense” to their business(es). More specifically, it restores the original federal Title VII legal standard involving religious discrimination which obligated employers to demonstrate that they reasonably attempted to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of their employees before claiming that such beliefs and practices posed a “significant difficulty” and “expense” for their business(es). This bill, once law, will help thousands of people of faith in the workplace who many times are forced to choose between their faith and putting food on the table for their family.
Our bill now goes to the Oregon House of Representatives where a hearing will be scheduled fairly soon, probably in the Public Affairs or Judiciary Committee. Having already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 4-1, and now the full Senate, it should be a little easier securing favorable passage of our bill in the committee and floor vote stages on the House side.
Securing Governor Ted Kulongoski’s signature will be the final stage of the process, and we remain encouraged that he will sign the bill. With the enthusiastic support of both the Speaker of the House, Representative Dave Hunt, and the State Director of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), former Senator Brad Avakian (and Senate sponsor of our bill in 2007), these positive influences cannot hurt our chances.
Please keep this important matter in your prayers and thanks again for your ongoing and faithful support.
Greg W. Hamilton
Northwest Religious Liberty Association