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Press Release

Justice Department Hosts Interagency Community Initiative in Birmingham to Combat Religious Discrimination in Employment

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM — The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama, in partnership with other federal agencies, hosted a community roundtable at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Wednesday that focused on religiously-motivated discrimination in hiring and in the workplace, and on ways the federal government can improve its efforts in these critically important areas, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

“The civil rights movement in Birmingham began in large part in our religious community,” Vance said. “The religious community in Birmingham, as across the nation, is now more diverse. Today’s opportunity to listen to the concerns and issues people of varied faiths encounter at the intersection of the exercise of their religion and their employment will help us all to better understand and respect the wide range of worship and belief that coexist in our great democracy,” she said.

About 20 representatives from various faiths and faith-based organizations in the Birmingham Area gathered around a table with Vance and officials with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to discuss short and long-term goals on how the federal government can better address the problem of religious discrimination in employment. Government representatives sought specific recommendations on steps the federal government might take to improve the way it responds to this issue.

            Topics for the afternoon’s discussion were:

  • Religion Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace

  • Data Collection and Reporting 

  • Accommodation of Religion

  • Education Regarding Workplace Religious Discrimination

  • Issues Involving Religious Institutions

The discussion underscored that issues exist in hiring and employment, particularly for those who are physically identifiable, like women who cover their heads or Sikhs who wear Turbans.

Participants also raised issues of prayer in the workplace, including Muslims who struggle to get accommodations for their daily prayers, to Jews, Muslims and non-believers who are ostracized for not joining in Christian prayer.

“We need to make it kosher to complain” about discrimination and subtle pressure to conform, said a Birmingham rabbi.

This roundtable is the third in a series of roundtables being held throughout the country as part of the Department’s new interagency community engagement initiative designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes.  This new initiative supplements the Department’s long-standing criminal and civil enforcement efforts to prevent religious discrimination and religion-motivated hate crimes.

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Updated April 20, 2016