Statement by Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the Workplace Religious Freedom Act
Rabbi Saperstein gave the following statement at a Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) Press Conference noting, "The Workplace Religious Freedom Act will restore the original intent of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requiring employers to “reasonably accommodate” the religious practices of employees insofar as doing so does not impose an “undue burden” upon the employer."
March 17, 2005
Contact: Alexis Rice or Eric
Today we celebrate the reintroduction of the Workplace Religious
Freedom Act (WRFA). This vital legislation would protect religious expression by
requiring employers to accommodate the religious needs of employees. Stories of
Jews being fired for refusing to work on the Sabbath, Muslim women losing their
jobs over their request to wear a head-scarf, and Sikh-Americans being fired for
wearing turbans are regrettably all too common in our society.
Today, however, due to a narrow interpretation of the current law
by the United States Supreme Court that ignored the clear intent of Congress,
religiously observant employees too often are forced to make needlessly
wrenching decisions about their religious beliefs in order to accommodate their
employers. The Workplace Religious Freedom Act will restore the original
intent of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requiring employers to
“reasonably accommodate” the religious practices of employees insofar as doing
so does not impose an “undue burden” upon the employer.
Some of our friends and coalition partners in the civil liberties
and civil rights community have raised concerns that the passage of WRFA will be
a refuge for discriminatory actions and unwelcome proselytizing in the workplace
under the auspices of abiding by one’s religious principles.
We hear those concerns and we understand them. But, in the main,
these fears, although based on concerns about critical issues on which we share
their views, are misplaced. Where legitimate concerns exist, the legislative
process through which WRFA will move, allows for such concerns to be
Most importantly, as a representative of American Reform
Jewry, long-time defenders of these same civil rights and liberties
claimed to be put in jeopardy by this bill, I believe that WRFA itself provides
a solid framework in which to address these concerns. It does not resolve
claims but requires a balancing test between valid interests. This is not
just a theoretical hope since we already have a test run with the state of New
York (as religiously a diverse state as one can find), which passed a law
modeled after WRFA. In the words of NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer,
“New York’s law has not resulted in the infringement of the rights of others, or
in the additional litigation that the [critics] predict will occur if WRFA is
WRFA has broad support from Republicans and Democrats in addition
to support from all strands of the American faith community. Today I stand here
alongside a coalition of faith groups including the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops, the Gobind Sikh Society, the National Association of Evangelicals, the
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the National Council of
Churches and the Southern Baptist Convention to say that it is time for Congress
to incorporate these vital religious protections into law through the passage of
the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
We applaud Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and John Kerry (D-MA) and
Representatives Mark Souder (R-IN) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) for their
leadership on this issue. Let us work together to ensure that we see the fruits
of our labor during this Congressional session. We urge every Member of Congress
to support this effort to protect religious freedom in the workplace.
The Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington
office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose
more than 900 congregations
across North America
encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews,
and the Central Conference of
American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.