More and more frequently, people are claiming a right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. This type of discrimination can come in many different forms. For instance, there are cases of social worker's refusing to counsel gay couples, and wedding planners and reception halls refusing to provide services to gay couples. Religiously-based LGBT discrimination has become more of a legal concern, as many states have begun passing laws that make this form of discrimination easier to accomplish.
Religion as an excuse to discriminate
Using religion to discriminate is not new. Back in the 1960s, many businesses claimed that their religious beliefs required the races to be separate. This was the basis for many objections to laws requiring integration in restaurants and schools. There were also religious-affiliated colleges and universities that refused to admit students who engaged in interracial dating. Now, the same tactics are being used to discriminate against the LGBT community.
The goal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
In 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed for the purpose of preventing the passing of other laws that create a substantial burden on an individual's free exercise of his or her religion. The freedom of religion in America means that everyone has the right to their religious beliefs, but it does not give people the right to use religious beliefs to discriminate against others, or to impose those beliefs on other individuals who do not share those beliefs.
The misuse of the RFRA
Unfortunately, the RFRA is being misused by many as a means of justifying the denial of civil rights to particular individuals. More and more, people are arguing that the RFRA should trump other non-discrimination laws. Even worse, there have been numerous attempts to make discrimination, based in religious belief, legal. For instance, when the executive order was signed in 2014 to extend various protections relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, there was a push to include a "religious exemption."
The RFRA does not allow employers to avoid discrimination bans
Despite the positive purpose of the RFRA, there are those that would see those purposes contorted for their benefit. They push for laws that define religious freedom so broadly that individuals and businesses actually gain the explicit right to discriminate on the basis of religion. Even though various state courts have held that the RFRA does not allow individuals to opt out of civil rights protections covering LGBT persons, attempts to skirt non-discrimination laws in the name of religion continue.
These issues have invaded the employment context
Even though same-sex marriage has become legal in our country, the fight for equality for members of the LGBT community continues, including equality in the employment context. Nearly 52% of the LGBT community still lives in states where there are no prohibitions against firing employees because of their sexual orientation.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.