Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom

December marks the celebration of several major religious holidays including Christmas and Hanukkah, along with several religious holidays that are not as mainstream, such as Bodhi Day (Buddhism) and Ashura (Islam).  In addition, though not a religious holiday, Kwanzaa was created to encourage people to celebrate their African heritage and culture.  Christians celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Hanukkah is the “Festival of Lights,” where Jewish people celebrate the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  Buddhists honor the day Buddah reached enlightenment by celebrating Bodhi Day, and Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Muhammad’s grandson on Ashura.

The United States of America was settled by men and women seeking to practice their religions without fear of persecution and our founders included protection for religious civil liberties in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The State of Missouri offers these same protections from religious discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodations through the enforcement of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA).

According to the MHRA, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay levels, promotions, job assignments, layoffs, or any other terms or conditions of employment.  The Act also requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.  For example, an employer may be required to allow an employee to swap shifts so he or she may observe a religious holiday or make exceptions to its dress code policy to allow employees to wear religious dress, such as a Muslim headscarf.  The MHRA also prohibits harassing a person because of his or her religion or religious beliefs.

The MHRA also makes it illegal for housing providers to refuse to rent, deny that an available unit is available or offer different rental terms and conditions because of someone’s religious beliefs. For instance, a landlord cannot refuse to rent an available unit to a qualified applicant just because the applicant is Hindu.  In addition, the Act prohibits property advertisements from attempting to induce people from certain religions to move into the area, such as advertising that a home is available for sale “near St. Mark’s church.”

Providers of public accommodations (stores, gas stations, banks, etc.) are also prohibited from discriminating against individuals because of their religious beliefs.  It is illegal for providers of public accommodations to deny service, or offer inferior service, to anyone because of his or her religious beliefs.  For example, it would be illegal for a store to ask a customer to leave the establishment only because she is wearing religious dress, such as a hijab. If any one feels as if they have been treated differently because of their religious beliefs, they can take the online assessment, determine if it is discrimination, and file a discrimination complaint with the MCHR.

Here are some ways to celebrate our cultural and religious freedoms during this holiday season: