Are Religious Freedoms Under Threat From Employers? SCOTUS Will Ponder This On Monday

Written By BlabberBuzz | Sunday, 24 April 2022 20:30
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An alarming trend is sweeping across the western world, employers are increasingly trying to stifle expression by asking employees to not showcase their religious jewelry or iconography. The Supreme Court is hearing a case tomorrow of a coach who prayed - so the question is, can an employer dictate when and where we express our beliefs/

Joseph Kennedy, who used to be an assistant coach for a high school football team outside Seattle, pointed to the spot on the 50-yard line where he would take a knee and offer prayers after games.

He was wearing a Bremerton Knights jacket and squinting in the drizzling morning rain, and he repeated a promise he had made to God when he became a coach.

“I will give you the glory after every game, win or lose,” he said, adding that the setting mattered: “It just made sense to do it on the field of battle.”

Coaching was his calling, he said. But after the school board in Bremerton, Washington, told him to stop mixing football and faith on the field, he left the job and sued, with lower courts rejecting his argument that the board had violated his First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Monday, and there is good reason to think that its newly expanded conservative majority will not only rule in Kennedy’s favor but also make a major statement about the role religion may play in public life. The court’s decision, expected by June, could revise earlier understandings about when prayer is permitted in public schools, the rights of government employees and what counts as pressuring students to participate in religious activities.

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This comes a month after a British panel has found that a Christian nurse was unfairly discriminated against when she was forced to quit from a hospital because she refused to stop wearing a cross.

The Employment Tribunal found on Wednesday that the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust mistreated Mary Onuoha when they demanded that he stop wearing a cross to work. The hospital's assertion that the cross necklace posed a high contamination risk was dismissed by the tribunal, noting that other items like rings and hijabs were permitted at the institution.

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“There is no evidence to show that the infection risk they posed was lower than the Cross-Necklace,” stated the tribunal. “There is no cogent explanation as to why these items are permitted but a fine necklace with a small pendant of religious devotional significance is not.”

Onuoha "was not merely wearing a necklace," the tribunal continued. It was a Cross-Necklace that was more than a fashion accessory; it was a symbol of religious belief."

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“Subjectively, from the Claimant’s point of view, that created an offensive and threatening environment,” they added. “The conduct was clearly unwanted. The Claimant simply wanted to get on with her job whilst wearing her Cross-Necklace.”

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Christian Concern, a London-based nonprofit whose partner organization, the Christian Legal Centre, assisted Onuoha in his legal case, issued a statement applauding the verdict on Wednesday.

“We are delighted that the Tribunal have ruled in Mary’s favor and delivered justice in this case,” Andrea Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, was quoted in the release as saying.

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“From the beginning this case has been about the high-handed attack from the NHS bureaucracy on the right of a devoted and industrious nurse to wear a cross — the worldwide, recognized and cherished symbol of the Christian faith. It is very uplifting to see the Tribunal acknowledge this truth.”

Onuoha, a Nigerian native, moved to the UK in 1988 and started working at the hospital in 2001, wearing a cross necklace during her shifts.

Supervisors began requesting that Onuoha remove the cross in 2015, and in 2018, her superiors argued that the religious jewelry violated the facility's dress code. Before resigning in August 2020, she was compelled to take on administrative tasks rather than her original vocation and faced possible disciplinary action.

Following her resignation, Onuoha filed a lawsuit against the hospital, alleging religious discrimination by her superiors, with the tribunal hearing oral arguments in October.

"This has always been an attack on my faith," In a statement made last year, Onuoha remarked. "My cross is part of me and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm.”

“Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs [at the hospital]. Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job."

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