Religion in the Workplace: Rights, Responsibilities - and Respect

September 9, 2006

Source: Charlotte Observer/ Orange County Register

On September 9, 2006 the Orange County Register reported, "Attorneys Richard Streza, Dave Brown and Tim Voorhees, partners at Brown and Streza LLP in Irvine, Calif., hold weekly Bible study in the office. Farmers Insurance broker Belal Dalati has a sign of Allah on his Anaheim office wall and pauses from work five times a day to pray. Vince Nguyen has two Buddhist statues in the entry of his company, EAP Technology in Garden Grove, and in observance of his faith burns incense in the office every morning. Despite highly publicized controversies about public expressions of religion -- from Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses to retailers removing 'Merry Christmas' signs -- people don't have to leave their religion outside the office, and businesses often benefit from accommodating faith in the workplace, experts say. 'The workplace does not have to be completely sterilized of religion,' said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento nonprofit legal assistance group that specializes in religious-freedom cases. But the U.S. right to religious freedom at work is accompanied by responsibilities not to discriminate, he added in a recent presentation to the Concordia University Center for Faith and Business. 'It's important to be respectful of people of all faiths.' Striking the right balance is an ongoing workplace issue. While the number of charges of religious discrimination in 2005 -- 3,878 -- is 9 percent lower than the record set in 2002, it is one-third more than the number 10 years earlier. And complaints are lodged by people of many different faiths. Twenty percent of the charges in 2005 were made by Muslims, 18 percent by Christians, 12 percent by Jews and 50 percent by others. The key question for the 125 people at the Concordia event: What does the law allow when taking religion to work? Plenty, Dacus said, and the principles apply to all 'sincerely held religious beliefs.'"