Leaders of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America joined with President Bill Clinton and other religious and civil liberties organizations today in a White House meeting at which the President issued “Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace.” The Guidelines are designed to ensure that civilian employees of the federal government are afforded protection of and accommodation for their religious beliefs and practices within their workplaces.
The Guidelines do not create any new rights or privileges for federal employees, but ensure that current laws that protect religious employees are properly understood and respected within the nation’s largest employer. The Guidelines protect the personal religious expression of employees so that, for example, a Jewish employee may where a skullcap and a Christian employee a crucifix so long as other considerations that would equally prohibit the wearing of similar non-religious items are not present. Also, the Guidelines require a federal agency to “accommodate employees’ exercise of their religion unless such accommodation would impose and undue hardship on the conduct of the agency’s operations.” Thus, for example, an agency must adjust work schedules to accommodate an employee observing her sabbath if an adequate substitute is available.
Orthodox Union Executive Vice President, Rabbi Raphael Butler and Institute for Public Affairs Director Nathan Diament attended the Rose Garden announcement by President Clinton. Rabbi Butler stated that “the Orthodox Union appreciates President Clinton’s effort to ensure that religious federal employees are not faced with conflicts between the demands of their faith and the demands of their jobs.” Nathan Diament added that “the religious community welcomes the President’s effort today and hopes that he will join in the effort to extend similar protections to all American workers by supporting the Workplace Religious Freedom Act that was introduced in the U.S. Senate last month.”