Is it legal for my private employer to discriminate against me because of my religion?
No, unless your employer is a religious organization.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits companies from discriminating against existing and potential employees on the basis of religion, among other things.1 This protection goes beyond discrimination in hiring and firing employees, extending to discrimination in advancement decisions, work assignments, and pay on the basis of the employee’s religion are all prohibited under Title VII.2 An employer also runs afoul of Title VII if it either fosters or knowingly permits a work environment which is hostile toward employees as a result of their religious beliefs.3 A hostile work environment is a workplace in which discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult are pervasive.4
It is important to note, however, that some employers are exempt from Title VII’s anti-discrimination requirements. The law expressly exempts religious employers, defined to include any “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society,” from the provisions prohibiting religious discrimination.5 While a religious employer is still bound to abide by Title VII with regard to an employee’s race, color, sex, and national origin, it can show a preference for employees and applicants that share the organization’s religious beliefs.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you on the basis of your religion, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission immediately in order to protect your rights.
1. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).
2. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); see also Ansonia Bd. of Educ. v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60 (1986).
3. Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65 (1986).
4. Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65 (1986).
5. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a).
Is it legal for a business to discriminate against me as a customer because I’m an atheist?
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits any place of “public accommodation” from discriminating on the basis of religion, race, color, or national origin.1 This includes businesses and organizations which hold themselves open to all members of the community.2 Religious discrimination by businesses can take many forms, such as church bulletin discounts, in which customers who present a bulletin from a local church are given reduced prices or other benefits3 or restaurants giving discounts to diners who pray before their meal.4 Even public universities have been known to offer such promotions without considering the legal implications.5 Such promotions are illegal under federal law and may also be prohibited by anti-discrimination laws in your city and state.
However, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to places of “public accommodation.”6 Private organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America and other clubs that operate independently of a particular location or facility, are permitted to place conditions on membership which would otherwise violate Title II because they do not constitute “accommodations.”7 In addition, such clubs have the right under the First Amendment’s freedom of association to determine who to accept into their organizations.8
If a business has discriminated against you on the basis of religion, please report the incident to the American Atheists Legal Center.
1. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(a).
2. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(b).
3. Hemant Mehta, Arkansas Restaurant Owner Defends Church Bulletin Discount by Saying Atheists Can Just Download One Online, Friendly Atheist (Aug. 23, 2014), http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/8/23/arkansas-restaurant-owner-defends-church-bulletin-discount-by-saying-atheists-can-just-download-one-online/
4. Hemant Mehta, This North Carolina Diner Gives a 15% Discount to Customers Who Pray Before a Meal, Friendly Atheist (Aug. 1, 2014), http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/8/1/this-north-carolina-diner-gives-a-15-discount-to-customers-who-pray-before-a-meal/
5. Hemant Mehta, Mizzou Offers Free Tickets for a Volleyball Game, but Christians Also Get a Special Discount… Somehow, Friendly Atheist (Sept. 26, 2014), http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/9/26/mizzou-offers-free-tickets-for-a-volleyball-game-but-christians-also-get-a-special-discount-somehow/
6. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(b).
7. Welsh v. Boy Scouts of Am., 993 F.2d 1267, 1276 (7th Cir. 1993); Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601, 613 (3d Cir. 1998).
8. Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 623 (1984); Welsh v. Boy Scouts of Am., 993 F.2d 1267, 1277 (7th Cir. 1993).
Is it legal for my government employer to subject me to proselytization or religious requirements?
No, but government employees generally can discuss religious topics with their coworkers.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents the federal government, when acting as an employer, from promoting particular religious beliefs, or from imposing religious requirements on employees.1 The Fourteenth Amendment extended that restriction to state, county, and city governments.2
While a public employer cannot promote a religious point of view, it is limited in its ability to restrict the content of conversations between co-workers. First, a government employer may impose a policy prohibiting the discussion of certain religious topics in the workplace, but only if the employees’ interest in the specific topic discussed is “outweighed by that [discussion’s] necessary impact on the operation of the [employer].”3 In other words, a government employer can only place a blanket restriction on conversations concerning religion (or any other topic) if the conversation, by its nature, would necessarily disrupt the office’s ability to function. Second, and even absent a blanket policy, a co-worker’s discussion of religious topics could be so disruptive that it creates a hostile work environment.4 If the government employer permitted such behavior it would be in violation of Title VII, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of religion, among other things.5 As a consequence, a government employer can take action to prevent an employee from continuing to discuss religion in ways which disrupt the office. Outside of those two types of conversations, employees are free to discuss religious topics in much the same way that they discuss any other topic of conversation.
If your government employer is subjecting you to proselytization or religious requirements, please contact the American Atheists Legal Center. However, if your employer has taken a discriminatory action against you on religious grounds, follow the Equal Employment Office procedures for your agency. It is important that you comply with these procedures in order to preserve your rights.
1. U.S. Const., Amend. I; Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 144 (1983).
2. Sch. Dist. of Abington Twp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 215-16 (1963).
3. United States v. Nat’l Treas. Emps. Union, 513 U.S. 454, 468 (1995) (internal quotation marks omitted).
4. Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65 (1986).
5. Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65 (1986); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).
Is it legal for my government employer to require me to convey religious views in my service to the public?
When a person makes the decision to accept a position as a government employee, that person is voluntarily accepting certain limits on their First Amendment rights.1 The government, when acting as an employer, has the same authority to limit an employee’s words and actions as does a private employer.2 However, government employees are not required to “check all of their First Amendment rights at the door.3
The Supreme Court has never directly ruled on whether a government employee can be forced to promote particular religious beliefs but it has indicated that doing so would place an unconstitutional religious condition on the “privilege” of government employment.4 Moreover, the Establishment Clause precludes a government agency from endorsing any sectarian point of view,5 let alone forcing employee to make such statements when they conflict with the employee’s own religious views.
If your government employer is promoting a religious point of view to the citizens it serves, please contact the American Atheists Legal Center.
1. Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563, 568 (1968).
2. Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006); Waters v. Churchill, 511 U.S. 661, 671-72 (1994).
3. Lewis v. Cowen, 165 F.3d 154, 157 (2d Cir. 1999); see also United States v. Nat’l Treasury Emples. Union, 513 U.S. 454, 465 (1995).
4. Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 144 (1983); see also Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2277, 2288 (2012).
5. Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 839 (1995)