Oregon Law Protects Workers Religious Freedom

On Thursday, July 16, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 786, the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, into law, clarifying the responsibility of employers to accommodate scheduling for employees' days of religious observance and wearing of religious apparel, and detailing legal conditions to be demonstrated if an employer is unable to make such accommodations.

Greg Hamilton, NRLA president, reflects: "the passage of this bill in both the Oregon Senate and House represents nearly eleven years of lobbying efforts; beginning with the Oregon Religious Freedom Act, affecting the area of constitutional law involving free exercise of religion at the state level (1999–2005), and then with Oregon's Workplace Religious Freedom Act addressing federal Title VII workplace discrimination law standards and applications at the state level (2007–2009). We failed in the first effort, but succeeded in the second."

By building a network of relationships with Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House of representatives, the NRLA introduced the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act in 2009 with bipartisan sponsorship and support. On April 9, 2009, under the leadership of Senator David Nelson (R-Pendleton), the state Senate approved the bill by a 63 percent majority. On May 29, 2009, the Oregon House of Representatives approved SB 786-A by a 65 percent majority.

The bill's chief sponsorship came from Rep. Dave Hunt, Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, who partnered with the NRLA since 2003. "Speaker Hunt, a Baptist who has risen to power and influence in a quintessentially populist state, demonstrated to all discerning observers that he had truly been ‘called for such a time as this,'" says Hamilton.

Hunt was honored by the NRLA on Friday, July 17, at the Oregon Conference Camp Meeting.

Read more about this story and the work done by the NRLA on their Web site: www.nrla.com.

September 01, 2009 / Perspective

CJ Anderson, GLEANER intern