Freedom of religion in the workplace, in the government and everywhere else: Part 1, The Basics.


A lot of businesses downplay religion in the workplace. Many individuals also believe that the government downplays religion, that is a major factor to what gives businesses this justification in the first place. However, there is a distinction between what the government is ruling on when it takes religion out of the government and when a business does.

Religious freedom in the workplace is a federal right that is enumerated in the constitution and further expounded through federal acts. It has been there since the inception of the constitution. However, there are many individuals that do not know that the 14th amendment and religious freedom right in the bill of rights protects them from retaliation or discrimination in the workplace and from exercising or voicing religious rights in the workplace.

One big thing that has occurred as of late in the United States, is that that many businesses are open on Sundays and Saturdays and on religious holidays and any other days. Workers take this on the chin as they don’t think there is a recourse for having to work on a religious holiday or working on a religious weekend day which has in turn helped strip religion out of the workplace and out of our the American mainstream as a whole.

It’s time that workers in the business employees better understood the breadth and depth of their religious rights in the workplace and the distinction with the government rulings on religion.

The knowledge of freedom of religion has become so scarce, that many attorney don’t understand the strength and purpose of it. The reason is, when they teach constitutional law in law school, they teach about the three branches of government and their powers, then they move onto the 14th amendment, which takes an entire semester, and delves into provisions that are not enumerated in the constitution but were put there by the Supreme Court 60 years ago.

If there is time at the end of the semester, professors may delve into freedom of expression and the first amendment, and then freedom of religion which is at the very back of the textbook, goes untouched.

In the federal constitution there are actually two provisions that address religion that are in the same sentence of Amendment 5 section I of the U.S. Constitution. It is actually the very start of the very first sentence in the Bill of Rights.

The sentence states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The first and second clause of the first sentence talk about two very different thing concerning religion.

The first clause is the establishment clause. The establishment clause was enacted to do the same thing that the 13th amendment did almost 100 years later, it kept individuals from segregating and discriminating based on a class of people. This was based off of what the colonists had already experienced in their own colonies such as the puritans in Massachusetts who discriminated against other religions such as Catholics.

In 1649, Maryland passed what was called the “Toleration Acts” to help move forward religious freedom, however, the act only tolerated religions that accepted Jesus Christ. If one religion didn’t accept Jesus Christ, then the consequence was “death and confiscation or forfeiture of all his or her lands and goods.” One Jewish colonist was prosecuted under this law and received the death sentence but it was later reduced to banishment.

This was also based-off what the colonists and many of their predecessors had already experienced living in Europe. Around the colonial period, there were laws enacted that essentially said that the King could do no wrong and that the King had the right to be the lawgiver and the judge. That mindset was already changing in England but still those principles ran supreme in the government of the crown.

The King was also the head of the Church of England and there were also principles at that time that everyone had to be a member of the Church of England. This interestingly enough was done in an action against the Catholic Church since before that, the Pope was essentially the governor of Europe with the Catholic religious laws that governed the people.

So in the end, the Church of England was created to desegregate the Catholic Church and many individuals that left England came to the New World to further desegregate the Church of England. The problem that arose with the Church of England and the Catholic Church was that all individuals were essentially subject to those churches and their beliefs no matter what.

Those that did rebel against the churches in the early times, were severely persecuted. Individuals such as William Tyndale who was executed for his contrary religious beliefs and Martin Luther whom both helped individuals think in a different direction than the status quo religiously. Both these men were in essence, reformists of the mainstream thinking of religion and helped open the pathway to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of thought. The colonists grabbed onto this idea and expanded it in the New World.

They wanted to believe in God as they wanted to and not what the government told them how to. The founders also exercised their own religious freedom of thought when they came up with the bill of rights and re-emphasized and implemented the principle of the first commandment that the God of Abraham gave to Moses in Mount Sinai mainly that:

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.”

Major issues with Crowns and religion being one whole was that many actions were done in justification of it being God’s will. The Byzantine empire played that card beautifully when they convinced the rest of Europe to handle their foreign affairs for them in the Middle East with the coming of the crusades. Explorers of the New World also justified actions made against the natives of the land stating that they did it in the name of God and the crowns they represented.

So in a government with the crown essentially claiming they are the conduit and lawgiver from God, like the pharaohs of ancient time, it was hard to make a counter-claim to the crown that their actions were not justified by God and were actions actually condemned by God. Such an assertion against the government would lead to severe religious punishment as not being in accordance with God and his will as well as all the other political ramifications tied into that bundle such as prison, persecution and death.

Those were the underlying issues that the founding fathers foresaw with the birth of this new nation and wanted to make sure that such actions were curtailed. Hence, the first two clauses of the Bill of Rights involve religion.

The first clause is in relation to desegregating religion in government and ensuring that one religion does not trample on and bully the rest and force the masses to have but one mindset without debate or choice. It is like the anti-monopoly clause for religion. As a result, when Supreme Court cases have come up in our nation trying to deal with that battle, that is half of what they involve.

Cases like these came about even in George Washington’s day when his town in Virginia essentially did the exact thing that the establishment clause was trying to curtail. The Supreme Court cases involve rules and regulations that try to balance from keeping one religion and mindset from being imposed on other individuals against their own free will and choice. So in the past, there have been run-ups with this law with cases such as Ten Commandments hanging above a court-room or a display of the birth of Christ on the lawn of a local municipality.

There have also been run-ons with people putting their religion above the nation, such as the case when some children in an elementary school during times of war did not recite the pledge of allegiance because they claimed it was a false idol.

It also hard for courts to find the balance between religious freedom and determine when someone actually has a religious belief and when it is really just an excuse or when it is a symbol that may offend others such as the case when a member of the Klu Klux Klan sat on the court steps in full attire, which also runs into freedom of speech and expression.

Another big battle is finding the distinction between what is legal and illegal and how religion plays a role in that, such as the famous case when Native Americans in Oregon were sanctioned for smoking peyote. There have also been run-ins with individuals saying prayers in schools, bringing religious artifacts in school and teachers posting religious artifacts on their walls in school buildings.

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