What is “Religion” Within the Meaning of Title VII?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. (emphasis added).

The statute further provides that

The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.

42 U.S.C. 2000e(j).

The Code of Federal Regulations further flesh out this definition, providing:

In most cases whether or not a practice or belief is religious is not at issue. However, in those cases in which the issue does exist, the Commission will define religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. This standard was developed in United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965) and Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970). The Commission has consistently applied this standard in its decisions.[1] The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee or prospective employee. The phrase “religious practice” as used in these Guidelines includes both religious observances and practices, as stated in section 701(j), 42 U.S.C. 2000e(j).

29 C.F.R. § 1605.1.

For example, in one case, the court held that “Onionhead qualifies as a religion for purposes of Title VII.” Equal Opportunity Employment Commission v. United Health Programs of America, Inc., 213 F.Supp.3d 377 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2016).

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