2002-10-19 / Community

Pataki Approves Law Protecting Religious Freedom

Pataki Approves Law
Protecting Religious

Governor George E. Pataki has signed into law a bill that will provide New Yorkers with important new workplace protections as they practice and observe their religious faith. The new law will require employers to accommodate their employees' religious practices at work, and will make it illegal for employers to punish their employees - or to refuse to hire employees - on account of their religious practices.

"The freedom to practice one's own religion is a fundamental principle of our American democracy," Governor Pataki said. "This important new law will provide important protections designed to ensure that individuals will never have to choose between their faith and their job."

The new law is an expansion of current law, which provides workplace protection for an employee's Sabbath and holiday observance, but not for other religious practices. Under the law, employers will be required to accommodate the religious needs of their employees - whether for distinctive dress, like a turban, yarmulka or head scarf, or for a reasonable break to visit a church, mosque or synagogue - so long as the accommodation would not be an undue hardship on the employer.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said, "This legislation will encourage reasonable accommodation and help ensure that people will not be forced to choose between worship and work."

Senator Dean Skelos said, "This nation was founded on the fundamental principle of religious freedom. Unfortunately, the demands of modern life can create new impediments to dutiful observance of one's faith. I thank the American Jewish Committee for asking me to introduce this legislation in the Senate and Governor Pataki for signing it into law. As a result, this new law will help strengthen the rights of all New Yorkers and protect the free practice of one's deeply held religious beliefs."

Ellen Israelson, Executive Director of Long Island's Chapter of the American Jewish Committee said, "This law will afford greater protection to employees who require accommodation of their religious beliefs and practices. The enactment of this bill is especially important in light of the backlash against foreigners and religious outside the American mainstream that ensued after September 11. Not only will this add another layer of protection for religious liberty, it will also help prevent religious discrimination."

Arvind Vora, President of the Multi-faith Forum of Long Island said, "Democracy comes closer to perfection if it protects everyone, both religious minorities and majorities, equally under the law. This law should help us achieve this goal."

While expanding the law to protect religious practices, the new law will also clarify the existing law to ensure that it is applied reasonably. In some cases, courts have held that even a minimal burden on an employer releases the employer from the obligation to accommodate employees' religious beliefs. The new law clarifies that courts should take reasonable factors into consideration in determining the scope of an employer's burden. The law also makes clear that other employees will not be required to sacrifice their own rights so that their co-workers may be accommodated.

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