Examples of Religious Exercise and Religious Expression

Examples of Religious Exercise and Religious Expression

Private Work Areas

  • An employee may keep a Bible or Koran on their private desk and read it during breaks.
  • An agency may restrict all posters, or posters of a certain size in private work areas, or require the posters be displayed facing the employee, and not on common walls.

Fellow Employees

  • In informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, employees are entitled to discuss their religious views with one another, subject only to the same rules of order as apply to other employee expression.
  • Are entitled to display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent that they are permitted to display other comparable messages.
  • May wear religious medallions over their clothes or so that they are otherwise visible. Typically, this alone will not affect workplace efficiency, and therefore is protected.
  • During a coffee break, one employee engages another in a polite discussion of why his faith should be embraced. The other employee disagree with the first employee's religious exhortations, but does not ask that the conversation stop. Under these circumstances, agencies should not restrict or interfere with such speech.
  • One employee invites another employee to attend worship services at her church, though she knows that the invitee is a devout adherent of another faith. The invitee is shocked, and asks that the invitation not be repeated. The original invitation is protected, but the employee should honor the request that no further invitations be issued.
  • A supervisor who is an atheist has made it known that he thinks that anyone who attends church regularly should not be trusted with the public weal. Over a period of years, the supervisory regularly awards merit increases to employees who do not attend church routinely, but not to employees of equal merit who do attend church. This course of conduct would reasonably be perceived as coercive and should be prohibited.
  • At a lunch table discussion about abortion, during which a wide range of views are vigorously expressed, a supervisor shares with those he supervises his belief that God demands full respect for unborn life, and that he believes it is appropriate for all persons to pray for the unborn. Another supervisor expresses the view that abortion should be kept legal because God teaches that women must have control over their own bodies.
  • without more, neither of these comments coerces employees' religious conformity or conduct. Therefore, unless the supervisors take further steps to coerce agreement with their view or act in ways that could reasonably be perceived as coercive, their expressions are protected in the Federal workplace in the same way and to the same extent as other constitutionally valued speech.

Hostile Work Environment and Harassment

  • An employee repeatedly makes derogatory remarks to other employees with whom she is assigned to work about their faith or lack of faith. This typically will constitute religious harassment.
  • A group of employees subjects a fellow employee to a barrage of comments about his sex life, knowing that the targeted employee would be discomforted and offended by such comments because of his religious beliefs.
  • A group of employees that share a common faith decides that they want to work exclusively with people who share their views. They engage in a pattern of verbal attacks on other employees who do not share their views, calling them heathens, sinners, and the like. This conduct should not be tolerated.
  • Two employees have an angry exchange of words. In the heat of the moment, one makes a derogatory comment about the other's religion. When tempers cool, no more is said. Unless the words are sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the insulted employee's employment or create an abusive working environment, this is not statutory religious harassment.
  • Employees may wear religious jewelry and medallions over their clothes or so that they are otherwise visible. Others wear buttons with a generalized religious or anti-religious message. Typically, these expressions are personal and do not alone constitute religious harassment.
  • In her private work area, a Federal worker keeps a Bible or Koran on her private desk reads it during breaks. Another employee displays a picture of Jesus and the text of the Lord's Prayer in her private work area. This conduct, without more, is not religious harassment, and does not create an impermissible hostile environment with respect to employees who do not share those religious views, even if they are upset or offended by the conduct.
  • During lunch, certain employees gather on their own time for prayer and Bible study in an empty conference room that employees are generally free to use on a first-come, first-served basis. Such a gathering does not constitute religious harassment even if other employees with different views on how to pray might feel excluded or ask that the group be disbanded.

Accommodation of Religious Exercise

  • An agency must adjust work schedules to accommodate an employee's religious observance. For example, Sabbath or religious holiday observance, if an adequate substitute is available, or if the employee's absence would not otherwise impose an undue burden on the agency.
  • An employee must be permitted to wear religious garb, such as a crucifix, a yarmulke, or a head scarf or hijab, if wearing such attire during the work day is part of the employee's religious practice or expression, so long as the wearing of such garb does not unduly interfere with the functioning of the workplace.
  • An employee should be excused from a particular assignment if performance of that assignment would contravene the employee's religious beliefs and the agency would not suffer undue hardship in reassigning the employee to another detail.
  • A corrections officer whose religion compels him or her to wear long hair should be granted an exemption from an otherwise generally applicable hair-length policy unless denial of an exemption is the least restrictive means of preserving safety, security, discipline or other compelling interests.
  • An applicant for employment in a governmental agency who is a Jehovah's Witness should not be compelled, contrary to her religious beliefs, to take a loyalty oath whose form is religiously objectionable.

Establishment of Religion

  • At the conclusion of each weekly staff meeting and before anyone leaves the room, an employee leads a prayer in which nearly all employees participate. All employees are required to attend the weekly meeting. The supervisor neither explicitly recognizes the prayer. This course of conduct is not permitted unless under all the circumstances a reasonable observer would conclude that the prayer was not officially endorsed.