In the course of one of those pointless wrangles on Facebook, my interlocutor posted a link to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s page on the requirement that employers provide religious accommodation. This individual seems to be of the opinion that more accommodations are made in the workplace for Muslims than for Christians, though he offered no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support this fairly silly idea.
On that page, the EEOC states, “A religious practice may be sincerely held by an individual even if newly adopted, not consistently observed, or different from the commonly followed tenets of the individual’s religion.” And then we get to this: “Social, political, or economic philosophies, or personal preferences, are not ‘religious’ beliefs under Title VII.”
In any legal sense, this is complete gibberish. It’s the law of the land, but it makes not a lick of sense. The first sentence is bad enough — I can eat meat on Monday and on Tuesday expect my employer to accommodate my sincerely held religious beliefs as a vegetarian. What evidence I would need to supply to prove that my sincere religious beliefs demand a vegetarian diet is not specified. Evidently, I don’t have to belong to a vegetarian church. I don’t even have to be a practicing vegetarian! So how is my employer to gauge whether my belief is “sincerely held”?
But that difficulty, vexing as it is, pales into insignificance beside the real problem. The real problem is this: A religion — any religion — is nothing BUT a social philosophy and personal preference. There is nothing of any substance in religion ASIDE from social philosophy and personal preference!
Naturally, believers don’t see it that way. They seem to have the idea that their religion creates some sort of special relationship between the individual believer and Thor, Poseidon, the Magic Unicorn of Zenda, or some other equally imaginary being. Unfortunately for them, the U.S. Constitution expressly prohibits any legal recognition of their belief in the Magic Unicorn of Zenda. Can’t go there. So if a law attempts to put a religion — any religion — in a special category that is DIFFERENT from a mere social philosophy or personal preference, then the law is in violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution. It’s an unconstitutional law.
As a result, employers CANNOT legally be required to provide any religious accommodation. Want some time off on Good Friday? Tough. Want to wear a headscarf? Too bad. That turban? Sorry, dude.
Now, I’m all for being polite to people whose personal styles are divergent. We should all try earnestly to make the kind of reasonable accommodations that are spelled out in Title VII. I happen to think the managers at Abercrombie & Fitch were being absolute dicks to try to fire that woman for wearing a headscarf. But as a legal matter, once they’ve set up a dress code for their employees, the fact that an employee happens to sincerely believe that the Magic Unicorn of Zenda wants her to wear her hair in a purple Mohawk should not be her manager’s problem, because there is NO legally cognizable difference between a Muslim headscarf and the purple Mohawk demanded by the Magic Unicorn.