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Religion in the Public Workplace: Regulation and Accommodation

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 76 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2007 Pages: 23-32
Richard G. Schott J.D.
Date Published
June 2007
10 pages
This article examines how law enforcement agencies should handle situations in which an agency's rules and the responsibilities of a particular deployment conflict with an officer's religious beliefs or practices.
An example of such a conflict is a Catholic officer's assignment to maintain order and protect clients in the midst of protests at an abortion clinic, even though the officer's religious beliefs forbid abortion. Another example is the scheduling of an officer's shift on a day when his/her religion mandates worship and prohibits working. The first amendment gives people the freedom to hold and express their religious beliefs in America. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from failing or refusing to hire a person or discharging an employee because of religious beliefs or practices. This antidiscrimination statute also has a reasonable accommodation provision that requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee's religious beliefs and practices. This article cites court cases in which challenges to law enforcement agencies' policies have been brought under the freedom of religion clause of the first amendment and under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The issues addressed in these cases have pertained to the wearing of religious symbols on police uniforms and grooming standards that conflict with religious mandates regarding physical appearance. Other court cases have pertained to job performance, assignments, and scheduling. Under both the requirements of the first amendment and Title VII, courts have held that agencies such as police and fire departments, which are charged with protecting the public from harm, may insist that all of their personnel comply with their assigned duties without regard to personal religious beliefs and practices. Religious symbols may not be visible on uniforms, but officers may grow beards under religious mandates. 69 notes