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New law combats discrimination due to religious clothing, grooming

Last month, we wrote about a woman who is suing Walt Disney Co. for religious discrimination, alleging that she was fired from her job at a Disneyland restaurant for requesting to wear a Muslim head scarf with her uniform. While the incident and resulting lawsuit are California-based, Florida obviously has strong ties to Walt Disney Co. and it is not difficult to imagine a similar dispute occurring here.

More than a decade after 9/11, many American Muslims still feel that they are victims of religion discrimination in the workplace. This is especially challenging due to the extra accommodations required for the religious observances of many practicing Muslims, including daily prayers, religious dress and grooming practices.

Some states are now passing laws to protect Muslim employees against religious discrimination in the workplace, including the very state that is home to the recent Disney lawsuit. Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law prohibiting employers from taking workers out of customer or public view as a means of accommodating their religious beliefs and practices (regarding dress and grooming).

For instance, if a host or hostess at a restaurant wanted to wear a hijab or turban with their uniform, employers wouldn't be allowed to change that worker's duties to kitchen work or some other job that takes them out of public view.

Upon signing the bill, Governor Brown said that, "This bill, AB 1964, makes it very clear that wearing any type of religious clothing or hairstyle, particularly such as Sikhs do ... is protected by law and nobody can discriminate against you because of that."

The law specifies that both religious grooming and religious dress are protected observances, which will likely be a beneficial protection to many Sikhs and Muslims. The law also requires employers to accommodate other religious practices except when doing so would create "significant difficult or expense."

To many observers, there seems to be more religious tension in America right now than there has been in half a century. Hopefully, this new law and others like it will remind all of us that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are among the very core values of America.

Source: L.A. Times, "Bill protects religious garb, grooming in the workplace," Patrick McGreevy, Sept. 9, 2012

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