Protection of religious people against discrimination in the workplace is firmly entrenched in U.S. law. However, more and more citizens in the U.S. are identifying as non-religious. Data from the Pew Research Center estimates that roughly one-quarter of those surveyed defined themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” which can open up more questions regarding potential discrimination. If you are a non-religious person, you may wonder whether you have the same rights to be free of discrimination as religious people do. Learn more about agnostics, atheists, and religious freedom in the workplace.
State Law Is Ambiguous
South Carolina law does not specifically protect atheists or agnostic people from discrimination, and in some workplaces, atheists can and do face ill-treatment. The state constitution still, to this day, contains a provision which states that no one who “denies the existence of a Supreme Being” may hold any office under the state constitution. While the provision is unenforceable, it still remains on the books. There are seven other states whose constitutions have similar language.
That said, South Carolina’s Human Rights Law (HRL) does guarantee protection against discrimination to anyone with a sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral belief, which would certainly describe a significant percentage of atheists and agnostics. In addition, the HRL also states that no employee may be required to participate in any kind of religious activity as a condition of employment. However, more specific protections are not, as yet, forthcoming.
Federal Law Is More Explicit
Federal anti-discrimination law has more provisions that clearly show that a lack of religion is deserving of the same level of protection as any religion. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is clear in dictating its belief in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex/gender. It also covers “sincerely held beliefs” that are not necessarily theistic or otherwise classically religious, but which concern “ultimate” questions like life and death, or humanity’s purpose.
Because of its more settled jurisprudence and more clear-cut requirements, an atheist or agnostic employee who suspects discrimination on religious grounds in the workplace may want to file their charge with the EEOC. Also, in most situations, the statute of limitations is longer. Often, the time to file a charge is 180 days, but with the EEOC, the limit rises to 300 days if there is a state law or local ordinance which prohibits the same type of conduct. That extra time may make a big difference in your case.
Contact A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney
It’s important to know your rights when it comes to agnostics, atheists, and religious freedom in the workplace. While much of the U.S. still holds certain prejudices about those who are not religious, this does not mean that non-religious citizens have fewer rights. If you are not religious and you believe that you are being discriminated against at work because of it, contact a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney at the firm of Hitchcock & Potts. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has been handling these types of cases for some time and is ready to assist you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.