Legal to Make Employees Sign Religious 'Faith Statements'?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 09, 2014 3:03 PM

As an employer, you may believe that having your employees sign "faith statements" is an efficient way of guaranteeing that your workforce agrees with your religious views.

A statement of faith may appear like a simple contractual agreement, asking an employee or applicant to sign off on the religious beliefs of an organization. However, depending on the legal status of your business, it may not be legal to ask or force employees to sign such faith statements.

So when is it legal to make employees sign religious "faith statements"?

Not Legal for Non-Religious Organizations

You may run a very small company, and as its head, you may believe that your religious beliefs are the company's beliefs. In fact, given the Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby, you may well assume that your company has First Amendment religious rights that extend into areas of hiring and firing.

BZZZZZ! Wrong. While private companies have gained religious freedom rights traditionally held by natural persons thanks to the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), that doesn't necessarily mean your company can only hire those who agree with your religious beliefs. Both federal and state civil rights laws prevent discrimination based on religion in private companies.

Only religious organizations are permitted to give preference in hiring to those who agree with their religious views. A non-religious organization (i.e., a typical business) is committing unlawful religious discrimination if it requires applicants or even current employees to sign a statement of faith.

Is Your Company a Religious Organization?

In order to receive a religious exemption from state and federal discrimination laws, a company's "purpose and character" must be "primarily religious." Running a Bible-themed park may qualify, but it's unlikely that a family-style restaurant would.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that the following questions are instructive in determining if an entity is religious:

  • Do its articles of incorporation state a religious purpose?
  • Are its day-to-day operations religious?
  • Is it non-for-profit? and
  • Is it affiliated with or supported by a church or another religious organization?

Another easy way to tell if you're a religious organization is if the IRS recognizes you as such. If the IRS doesn't recognize your business as a tax-exempt religious group, odds are that your business isn't allowed to discriminate based on religion.

So think carefully about using faith statements in your business, and contact a business attorney if you're unsure where your business fits within the law.

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