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Employment Discrimination Blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Employment Discrimination and Religious Employers

Shorter University, a Baptist college located in Rome, Georgia, recently mandated that its 200 employees sign a “personal lifestyle pledge”. The pledge declared that they reject adultery, premarital sex, and homosexuality. The pledge also required that employees abstain from using drugs and participate in local churches.

According to some sources, many faculty members have resigned or are planning to resign as a result of the pledge. Some faculty members took issue with the fact that the pledge singled out some sins but not others, while others claimed that the pledge was approved as a result of a very biased survey. Students are also said to be unhappy about the pledge. Supporters of the pledge claim that the goal was to declare what the college was all about.

So are employers allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion? Yes. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating in employment based on religion, there are exceptions. Under Title VII, religious organizations are permitted to give employment preference to members of their own religion. This exception only applies to institutions whose purpose and character are primarily religious. In order to decide whether an entity is religious, courts consider whether it’s working for a religious purpose, whether its day-to-day operations are religious, whether it’s not-for-profit, and whether it’s affiliated with a church or another religious organization.

Therefore, a private employer that is considered religious can discriminate in its hiring and general employment practices. However, there are limits to what a religious employer can do. For example, a religious employer can’t otherwise discriminate in employment on the basis of race, national origin, sex, etc. by claiming that according to its religious beliefs, their employees are not allowed to associate with people of other races.

In general, religious employers have some wiggle room in what types of employment discrimination they can engage in, although there are limits. The actions taken by Shorter University are most likely legal, although they may end up ultimately having a detrimental effect on the faculty and student populations.


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