Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How far will we go with religious rights?

I must preface this piece by noting that I am a huge proponent of the constitutional right to practice your own religion. Religious freedom is the foundation of our republic. However, the recent Supreme Court decision regarding a Muslim girl and Abercrombie & Fitch is troublesome.

In an 8-1 decision, the high court ruled that Abercrombie & Fitch violated a 17-year-old’s rights by denying her a sales job because she wore a head scarf, or hijab. The girl was rejected under Abercrombie’s “look policy.” Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenter in the ruling, saying that “mere application of a neutral policy” does not constitute discrimination. And he’s right.

Digambar monks don’t wear clothes. Does that mean one can now walk into a mall anywhere in America and be protected by his constitutional religious rights? How far do we go with this hijab business? The niqab is a veil which covers the entire face and it’s worn by some Muslim women. Should Abercrombie be forced to hire someone wearing that? The answer is obviously “no.” Then how could the court possibly rule in favor of the hijab? If your answer is the hijab is not nearly as noticeable then you’re missing the point. The court ruled that Abercrombie had to accommodate her religion. If we’re talking about constitutional religious rights then degree is not the issue.

What is at issue is a business’ right to employ the people they believe are best for their business. It is certainly plausible that a girl with a headscarf might be a distraction on the sales floor. Just as a sales person with a big gold cross hanging from her neck might be.

During the religious holiday Thaipusam, Hindus pierce various body parts with skewers, large hooks and small spears. How would you like that guy helping you find a top to go with that skirt?

I’m a Christian but for several years I was required to work on Sunday. Did that violate my religious rights? No, and here’s why. I have the option of not working at a place that requires me to work on Sunday. The Muslim girl had the option of taking off the hijab or working in a job that doesn’t require a dress code. She chose to keep it on, which is her right, but a business has the right to employ people who conform to its dress code. If not, how far will this silliness go?

I’ll tell you where it’s going. Business will be forced to shut down five times a day to accommodate Muslim prayers. They will be required to include Muslim, Hindu and any other religious holidays that reflect their work force and before too long productivity will come to a screeching halt.

I get the religious freedom thing. A business should not force you to check your religion at the door. However, you should not force a business to drop everything to work around your religion. I’ve seen articles that state the high court has taken an expansive view of religious rights recently and point to the Hobby Lobby/abortion pill case. That case is almost in direct contradiction to this one. In the Hobby Lobby case the court prevented a business from being forced to do something. In this case, it’s the exact opposite.

As our world grows, this country will continue to be exposed to more and more religions with which we are heretofore not familiar. This will include all sorts of strange practices. That’s all well and good but how far should a business have to go to accommodate them?

Phil Valentine is the host of the award-winning, nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Phil Valentine Show.


  1. Our, repeat "OUR" Constitution was written to protect our rights. It wasn't written for other Countries it's not international. It wasn't written to protect invaders or cults that violate our rights or morals and values, customs or kill in their 'god's' name. In my opinion a company shouldn't have to hire someone that won't follow their dress code. She knew they wouldn't like it that is why she applied for the job and sued them, just to force the issue. She may not have even wanted the job. Maybe I should wear my kilt to work (They don't even allow shorts) and sue if they have a problem with it along with OSHA?

  2. One thing to add. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the court held that GOVERNMENT could not compel a private business to engage in conduct which violated the religious beliefs of the owners, private citizens. The Constitution (and as it has been amended by the Bill of Rights) are meant as a wall preventing action by government against citizens. In this case, the court is attempting to coerce a private business into engaging in behavior to which it objects. The two cases are inherently different and the recent decision is fundamentally flawed.