MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed a law that will force employers to make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious practice or observance.
Sikh groups in particular have hailed the passage of the Workplace Religious Freedom Bill, which was designed in part to stop local police and transit employers from banning turbans in official uniforms.
In 2005, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act on the federal level to extend existing anti-discrimination laws. It quickly gained support among several religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Council of Churches, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Jewish Committee.
In its original form, critics worried that proposed statute’s language was too broad.
A year before the bill was introduced, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter discouraging senators from supporting it, arguing that the legislation could be used to justify a police officer’s request to refuse to protect an abortion clinic, a social worker’s decision to rely on exorcism rather than psychoanalysis, or a nurse telling an AIDS patient and his partner that God “doesn’t like the homosexual lifestyle” and that they needed to pray for salvation.
The New York Civil Liberties Union had no comment on New York’s version of the law, and could not say whether it was more narrowly constructed than the federal version.
As passed by City Council, Int. No. 632-A imposes a civil penalty of up to $125,000, along with possible compensatory damages, back-pay awards and injunctive relief, against employers that do not make “reasonable accommodations” for the religious beliefs of their workers.
Democratic City Councilman Mark Weprin, who sponsored the bill, hailed its passage.
“This bill sends the message that people should not have to choose between serving our city and adhering to their religious beliefs,” Weprin said. “All Americans should receive the full embrace of our country’s constitutional freedoms.”