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A public employee wishes to convert a fellow employee to his religion. Does he have a First Amendment right to proselytize?

Individuals do not forfeit First Amendment protections when they accept public-sector employment. Public employees also can speak about religious matters in the workplace to a certain degree, particularly if the speech is not communicated to the general public. However, the employer has a right to ensure that the employee’s religious speech does not disrupt office work or otherwise become distracting to other employees to the extent that it hinders productivity. Furthermore, no employee has the right to engage in religious harassment or create a hostile work environment. If the fellow employee tells his religious-minded co-worker to stop proselytizing, the co-worker should desist from further conversations on the subject.


My faith forbids me to work on Sundays, but my workplace is open and I’m expected to be there. What are my rights?

The free-exercise clause of the First Amendment says the government may not prevent individuals from freely practicing their religious faith. Also, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the major federal anti-discrimination law that covers virtually all public and private employers with 15 or more full-time employees, generally prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion. Under Title VII, an employer must “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious practice unless doing so would create an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”

Congress didn’t define “reasonably accommodate” and “undue hardship,” so that was left to the courts. In the 1977 ruling Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, the Supreme Court said requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis (minimal) cost” to accommodate an employee’s religious practice is an undue hardship. In 1986, the Court ruled that an employer meets its obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practice when it demonstrates that it has offered a reasonable alternative to work requirements interfering with faith. See Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook.



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