Long hair as religious accommodation

by Walter Olson on August 5, 2011

Taco Bell finds itself at odds with the EEOC. [Jon Hyman]

{ 14 comments }

1 David Schwartz 08.05.11 at 5:53 am

Why can’t the employee just accommodate Taco Bell and cut his hair?

2 Frank 08.05.11 at 8:17 am

Apparently because that would violate his sincerely held religious beliefs. It’s actually the thrust of the report.

Not disregarding that, since it is the crucial issue, but it also seems at least a little unreasonable to ask this employee to change what has been acceptable to his employer for at least 6 years or to give up his livelihood.

3 ParatrooperJJ 08.05.11 at 9:34 am

Most likely a new local health dept regulation.

4 David Schwartz 08.05.11 at 10:29 am

Frank:
“Violate his sincerely held religious beliefs” = “He doesn’t want to cut his hair”.
“Give up his livelihood” = “Someone else wants to stop doing business with him”.
When you call things what they actually are, the arguments seem a bit less persuasive. It’s hilarious that you argue that his employer is acting “at least a little unreasonable” when he no rational reason not to want to cut his hair other than that he *really* *truly* thinks he shouldn’t.

5 Hugo S. Cunningham 08.05.11 at 11:08 am

Did they offer him a chance to wear a hairnet?

6 Frank 08.05.11 at 2:46 pm

While I agree that no religiously based reason is rational, that is not the view of the law.

There was no questioning in the report that the employee truly held this religious relief. There was no suggestion that he just didn’t want to cut his hair because he likes having long hair or dislikes haircuts. Irrational as it may seem to you and I, this man believes that God, the supreme being in the universe, has instructed him. Are you suggesting that for instance Sikh’s adhere to their own religious practices just on whimsy?

I find it odd, but apparently Y_____ has instructed some people to wear little hats.

What you think is “hilarious” is unlikely to make you a popular raconteur.

An employment relationship is different from ‘doing business from someone’. One’s employment is one’s livelihood. I do business with a local contractor. My business is not his livelihood – if I cease doing business with him, he will not have lost his livelihood. If he was my employee and I fired him, he would.

7 Jack Wilson 08.05.11 at 4:00 pm

What if it was against his religion to work?

8 mike 08.05.11 at 4:14 pm

The proper punishment for making such a silly religous claim, is to have to keep working at taco bell.
They should promote him to “graveyard shift supervisor”.

9 David Schwartz 08.05.11 at 5:04 pm

Frank: If you make it hard to fire people, you make it hard to hire people. People really do want at will employment. If you think this job is so valuable to him, why would you want to make it harder on others to get such jobs in the future?

If Taco Bell would rather fire him than accommodate his desire to cut his hair, then his “livelihood” is a sham. Rather than a mutually beneficial arrangement, he is demanding a predatory one.

10 John Burgess 08.05.11 at 5:18 pm

David Schwartz: You’re swimming against at least 20 years of history here. Religious accommodation in employment is the law, well supported by Supreme Court decisions. The accommodations must only be ‘reasonable’ and ‘affordable’, not extortionate or ‘predatory’.

Like it or not, the US does favor religion in some parts of the law–e.g. tax exemptions, certain exemptions in employment law, etc. It has done so, irregularly, since the earliest days of the republic. You are free to criticize this and work against it, but simple railing doesn’t accomplish much.

11 David Schwartz 08.06.11 at 3:19 am

Tax exemptions don’t really favor religion. With very few exceptions, they just treat religions like other charities. I don’t consider failing to discriminate against religious charities as favorable treatment. And, of course, there is a huge difference between the government deciding how to collect and use its own resources and the government commanding others to do things with their own resources and in their own lives.

It is absurd to me that a secular society would pass laws requiring private individuals to “reasonably accommodate” other people’s religious beliefs when there is no corresponding requirement for accommodating equally sincere non-religious beliefs.

If a person believes he must not cut his hair because he thinks it poses a health risk, he can lose his livelihood. But if he believes he must not cut his hair because god said so, he must be accommodated. That is perverse.

12 John Burgess 08.06.11 at 9:20 am

Perverse it may be, but it’s been US history for over 200 years, constantly reinforced by the courts. You are surely swimming against the current here.

The US simply puts religion in a privileged place and the vast majority of Americans are happy to have it stay there.

13 David Schwartz 08.07.11 at 6:18 am

I’ll continue to swim against the current so long as our government continues to use its coercive power to force some citizens to ‘accommodate’ the religious beliefs of others. The idea that one private individual can acquire a government-enforced right against another just by putting the right unverifiable beliefs into his brain is absurd regardless of how many Americans are happy with it.

14 antiredistributionist 08.08.11 at 11:42 am

You know, Frank, times are tough for contractors, who are increasingly dependent on fewer and fewer clients for their livelihoods. Under these circumstances, you’re willing to have the government increase your obligations to your contractor(s) based on how badly your business is needed, right?

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