Religious Discrimination & Government Promotion of Religion
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of conscience of both believers and nonbelievers by mandating government neutrality between belief and nonbelief. The government may neither legally sponsor particular religious beliefs, nor favor religious belief over nonbelief. Under U.S. law, individuals are perfectly free to decide private matters of religious belief in accord with the dictates of their own conscience. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Yet some religious believers continually attack the Bill of Rights. They want to privilege themselves while restricting the freedoms of those with different religious beliefs or no religious beliefs at all. The resources and articles listed here provide a sampling of how these issues repeatedly crop up in U.S. courts.
The ACLU’s Religious Liberty Action pages (n.d.) (Off Site) by the American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union strives to safeguard the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise. Visit their Using Religion to Discriminate page to see the latest examples of individuals and institutions refusing to provide services on religious grounds, and their Government Promotion of Religion page to follow the latest cases involving government promotion of religion in the United States. See also their See their End Religious Discrimination in Government-Funded Programs mission statement.
The national watchdog Americans United for Separation of Church and State is the go-to nonprofit organization for separation of church and state and religious liberty advocacy. It has local chapters and is open to theists and nontheists of all kinds.
Combating Religious Discrimination and Protecting Religious Freedom (n.d.) (Off Site) by the U.S. Department of Justice
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Combating Religious Discrimination and Protecting Religious Freedom page provides a useful overview of federal laws against religious discrimination in the United States, particularly those arising in education, employment, housing, public accommodation, zoning, the prison population, and certain instances of vandalism or harassment.
The EEOC’s Religious Discrimination pages (n.d.) (Off Site) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee on the basis of, among other things, religious belief (or lack thereof). It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because that person complained about such discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. See also their Facts About Religious Discrimination fact sheet.
LexusNexis’ Legal News Room on Religious Discrimination (n.d.) (Off Site) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
LexusNexis’ Legal News Room pages tagged with “religious discrimination” provide legal commentary from various authors on current cases, such as those concerning labor and employment, raising issues of religious discrimination.
Religious Discrimination and Accommodation in the Federal Workplace (n.d.) (Off Site) by the U.S. Department of Labor
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Religious Discrimination and Accommodation in the Federal Workplace page provides an overview of federal laws against religious discrimination in the workplace in the United States, including a useful list of employee best practices to follow in the workplace.
Safeguarding Religious Liberty in Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiatives (2009) (Off Site PDF) by Daniel Horowitz and Ruth Mitchell
This Center for Inquiry position paper ultimately calls for an end to government funding of faith-based programs, though in the interim at least adopting and vigorously enforcing specific minimum safeguards to protect church-state separation and religious liberty within faith-based programs. Participating programs should be barred from discriminating against both beneficiaries and employees on the basis of religion, strictly demarcate social service funds from sectarian funds to ensure that public money does not replace or bolster existing donation-based expenses, and be monitored closely to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytization. Government must treat programs conducted by religious and secular organizations equally in granting funds, measuring performance, and monitoring for compliance. Limited exceptions should be allowed for truly secular social services programs, such as Catholic Charities, that have some affiliation with a religious institution but are provided by independent 501(c)(3) charities.
The president has nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Full legal equality for nonbelievers hangs by a thread even now. The Court has already gone very far in providing special privileges for the religious. In addition to generally favoring belief over nonbelief, Kavanaugh has let stand the Navy’s preferential treatment of Catholics over Protestants, argued to exempt religious claimants from following laws applicable to everyone else, argued to allow proselytizing on elementary school grounds, written that keeping government ceremonies neutral in matters of religion shows hostility to religion and establishes atheism, and ruled in a way that obstructed government efforts to combat global warming, among other things.
In this nearly hour-long speech to the Center for Inquiry, constitutional lawyer and secular activist Edward Tabash warns of the consequences of the horrific two-thirds religious right-wing majority on the United States Supreme Court: a rapid move toward ever-greater legal privileges that only the religious can enjoy. Religious objectors are quickly becoming the only members of society who are now permitted to discriminate against third parties. The Court is allowing them to use their faith to avoid complying with our country’s anti-discrimination and employment protection laws.
Worse than we Thought:
Anti-Science and Pro-Religious Privilege from Judge Brett Kavanaugh (2018) (Off Site) by Jason Lemieux
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent in Priests for Life codified religious discrimination by reinterpreting existing religious freedom laws to prioritize religious fiction over scientific fact. When science stands between religious privilege and the law, Judge Brett Kavanaugh will parrot antiscientific propaganda to aid the religious right in steamrolling the rights of individual Americans, especially women. We already knew that Judge Kavanaugh was pro-religious privilege. Now we see that he added antiscience to the list of reasons he is wrong for the Supreme Court.