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Can religious organizations discriminate when hiring?

| Nov 11, 2020 | Workplace Discrimination |

You’re looking for a new job, and you find a job as a secretary. You’re well-qualified, so you apply, but then you don’t get the job. They tell you that it’s because they’re a religious organization and you’re clearly not part of that religion, so they don’t want to hire you. Is this legal or is it religious discrimination?

It depends on a lot of factors. In general, religious organizations are allowed to prefer those who are part of the same religion. A Christian church that is looking for a new pastor does not have to hire an atheist to be their pastor, for instance, as it would undermine the entire role of the church.

There are, however, some key stipulations to note. For one thing, the organization has to be primarily religious, like a church. If the secretary job you applied for was at a construction company, they can’t tell you that “all of the workers are Christians” (or any other religion), and then refuse to hire you on those grounds. They can have whatever faith they want, but people of all religious backgrounds deserve a fair chance at employment.

Another issue to note is that discrimination can’t be based on another protected class, simply using religion as an excuse. For instance, someone can’t claim that their religion doesn’t permit them to hire women and then practice sex discrimination. That’s still illegal discrimination since it isn’t based on the person’s religion at all, but their gender.

A similar example would be if someone of a certain religion had a personal issue with people from another country. They may then refuse to hire them based on their national origin. Again, though, that violates their rights since national origin is a protected class. The only exception to the discrimination laws is when there is a direct religious difference that is important to the core of that business.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you can see how complex the law becomes. Make sure you are well aware of all of your legal options.

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