On one hand, employers can’t discriminate against employees because of their honestly held religious beliefs. On the other hand, those religious beliefs don’t give employees the right to alter their jobs based on those beliefs.
This is especially true for public employees who might expose their agencies to First Amendment establishment clause litigation by altering their jobs to advocate a particular religious-based belief.
Recent case: Kathryn Grossman worked as a guidance counselor for a tiny school district in a town of just 500 people. She did her job well, except for two things. First, when she started the job, she found sex education materials in her office that explained the use of condoms and other contraceptives. She threw out the materials and ordered new abstinence-education materials.
Second, Grossman began urging students who came to her office with emotional problems to pray with her. Hernoted both issues, and when it came time to renew her contract, the school district refused to do so.
Grossman sued, alleging religious discrimination. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
The court differentiated between punishing an employee for her religious beliefs and instead focused on Grossman’s actions. It decided Grossman imposed her beliefs on students through her actions and essentially rewrote her job description. The court said tolerating her actions could violate the First Amendment establishment clause and expose the school district to legal liability from parents.
The district, as the employer, had the right to set what it wanted its guidance counselors to teach and how it wanted employees to act. (Grossman v. South Shore Public School District, No. 06-4294, 7th Cir., 2007)
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