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Beware blanket ban on religious expression

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees have a right to reasonable accommodation of their religious practices. That means employers must try to find ways for employees to exercise their beliefs unless doing so would be an undue burden.  

Recent case: James was an associate professor of computer science in Texas. Under the university’s tenure rules, James’s contract could either be renewed or not at the end of each year. James taught at the university for four years, beginning with the 2005-2006 academic year.

Each semester, he began his computer courses with a simple statement of his Christian faith, explaining that his beliefs required him to proclaim it. After that, he never again mentioned religion until the last class of each semester, when he ended with a Bible passage.

The administration told James to stop making statements about his faith because the university had a rule against making “controversial statements” in class.

Eventually, the university decided not to renew James’s contract. He sued, alleging that he had been punished for practicing his religion and that the university had refused to accommodate his religious practices.

In court, a university administrator testified that James’s religious statements “might have been one of” the reasons why he wasn’t reappointed and that continuing to make religious statements in class was a factor. The university made no attempt to justify why it would have been unduly burdened by allowing the semester opening and closing statements of faith.

That was enough for the court to allow the lawsuit to proceed. (Jones v. Angelo State University, No. 03-14-00112, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2015)

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