Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: December 2014

Benefits of Religious Freedom is Sleeper Story of 2014

22 Dec, 2014
The positive contributions of religious freedom to society generated significantly greater interest than the problems of religious freedom, based on analysis of social media engagement in 2014.


Of course, there was much to be concerned about in 2014 (see recent op-ed by Brian Grim & Robert Smith), but this current analysis provides evidence that a solutions-based approach to religious freedom will change the religious freedom paradigm from one of problems to opportunities.Based on a study of the stories published by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and The Weekly Number, here are the 5 stories from 2014 that garnered the most interested.

Brian Grim Religious Freedom2.9 K “Likes”

1. Religious Freedom Linked to Peace, Finds New Global Study A new report from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in conjunction with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation challenges the myth of religious violence.* The study found no general causal relationship between religion and conflict when looking at all of the current conflicts in the world.

The study found that countries with greater religious freedoms are generally more peaceful, whereas countries with less religious freedom are generally less peaceful. Additionally, the most influential factor affecting religious freedom is the government type. Full democracies are the most peaceful and have the greatest level of religious freedom, regardless of the type of religious belief or various religious characteristics.

Brian Grim Religious Freedom2 K+ “Likes”

2. The Link Between Economic and Religious FreedomsOn the World Economic Forum’s blog, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation president, Brian Grim, overviewed research indicating that freedom of religion or belief has the following effects: Reduced corruption: Research finds that laws and practices that exclude religion are related to higher levels of corruption. More peace: When religious freedoms are not respected, the result can be violence and conflict.

Less harmful regulation: Some religious restrictions can directly affect economic activity, creating legal barriers for import and export industries, such as the halal food market. Reduced liabilities: Stocks of Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance, dropped when news broke that the clothing retailer had allegedly refused to hire a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, potentially a violation of American equal opportunity employment laws.

More diversity and growth: Minorities often are drivers of economic innovation and growth. For instance, a new study in the China Economic Review finds a link between Christianity, adhered to by some 5% of China’s population, and the nation’s economic growth.

Brian Grim Religious Freedom2.1 K “Likes”

3. More than 8-in-10 People Hold Religious Beliefs, and It’s RisingResearch from Brill’s Yearbook of International Religious Demography shows religious adherents of all faiths are globally on the rise.* The rise is largely due to the collapse of Communism, which sought to eradicate religion.More than eight-in-ten people today follow a religion, and even among those who don’t, many still hold some spiritual beliefs or engage in some religious practices. Continued growth of religious populations appears likely, as they are younger on average than the world’s religiously unaffiliated population.

  • Religionists account for 88.4% of the world’s population in 2013, up from 80.8% in 1970, according to the book.
  • The world is becoming increasingly religious, from about 80% in 1970, projected to be over 90% by 2030.

Brian Grim Religious Freedom1.7 K “Likes”

4. Religious Freedom Linked to Economic Growth, Finds Global Study Freedom of belief is one of three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, according to a recent study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University.* The study looked at the GDP growth of 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social and regulatory influences.The study also finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and 10 of the 12 pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

Brian Grim Religious Freedom1.5 K “Likes”

5. Ban Ki-moon Receives Religious Freedom & Business Foundation Joint Publication with UNGCUnited Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received “BUSINESS: A Powerful Force for Supporting Interfaith Understanding and Peace,” a new joint publication by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and the UN Global Compact Business for Peace platform.* It was released at the UN Alliance of Civilizations Meeting in Bali, Indonesia, during a side event organized by the Indonesia Global Compact Network.The publication covers emerging business approaches to interfaith understanding and peace, including: Using Marketing Expertise to Bridge Borders, Incentivizing Innovation; Incubating and Catalyzing Social Entrepreneurship; and Supporting Workforce Diversity.

* See links to the original stories for links to sources and authors of the studies.

Religious freedom guards against tyranny: Part 2

15 Dec, 2014
Dr Brian Grim explains the social and economic benefits of religious freedom in CPX studio, Sydney Australia.

This 2-part interview was filmed just blocks from where hostages were freed by a commando unit. They were allegedly held by Man Haron Monis, a self-styled Muslim cleric was born in Iran and sought political asylum in Australia in 1996. He was well known to the Australian police and is currently on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

Time to reset U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy

13 Dec, 2014
With the Dec. 12 Senate confirmation of Rabbi David Saperstein as U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Brian Grim and Robert Smith argue in a new op-ed that by resetting our own resolve to positively encourage countries to protect international religious freedom ideals, a more nuanced national and foreign policy could advance our economies.

PictureSec. Kerry with Rabbi Saperstein

Recent scholarship indicates that religious freedom is an important contributing factor for much of what the world yearns for — peace and economic prosperity. As described in Brian Grim and Roger Finke’s book, “The Price of Freedom Denied,” religious freedom is not only strongly correlated with other freedoms and civil liberties, but it is also an important factor in other universally desirable goods such as lower levels of armed conflict and poverty, along with higher levels of income and better lives for women.

Conversely, the lack of religious freedom leads to increased hostilities and constrained liberties sometimes shocking to the human conscience. For example … [read the entire article at Deseret News]

Is Religious Freedom for Europe’s Workers Really Protected?

9 Dec, 2014
Is freedom of religion or belief in the workplace really protected by the European Court of Human Rights? (Part I) by Rebeca Vázquez Gómez 

On the occasion of Human Rights Day 2014 (Dec. 10), the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) is pleased to release the first in a series of articles by RFBF Research Fellow Rebeca Vázquez Gómez studying the balance between workers’ religious freedom and company’s interests at the European Court of Human Rights.

Rebeca Vázquez Gómez European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has consistently put the burden of proof on religious believers rather than their employers for respect of their faith practices in their work life. Instead of making affirmative protections, the European Court of Human Rights has consistently forced religious believers to resign rather than requiring their employers to respect their faith practices in the workplace.

Instead of promoting reasonable accommodations of religious freedom at the workplace, the Court strongly protects the employer and challenges the employees to choose between resigning or waive the exercise of their beliefs. A number of the difficulties employees face in exercising their right to religious freedom in the workplace arise when the work schedule established by the employer creates an obstacle for the employee to observe his or her religious duties of rest or prayer on specific days or hours.

Rebeca Vázquez Gómez European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is the preeminent legal voice on the protection of human rights in Europe (not just the European Union). Its resolutions serve as an important guide to the different European legal systems. It is therefore important to understand how it protects (or does not protect) freedom of religion or belief in the workplace.

The Court acts as the “guardian” of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), passed by the Council of Europe in 1950 to promote and protect these rights in all its member states. Article 9 of the Convention protects religious freedom, referring to its content in paragraph 1 and its limits in paragraph 2:

1.     Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2.     Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Religious freedom involves the right to have a religion or beliefs and the right to express them. The internal liberty is absolute but its external manifestation is subject to some limits that must meet nevertheless certain requirements: they must be set by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or to guarantee the rights and freedoms of others. The role of the ECtHR is a three-step check:

·      A sincere religious practice is being exercised (step 1),

·      That exercise has been restricted (step 2), and

·      That restriction is legally justified, that is, it fulfills the terms of Article 9.2 ECHR (step 3).

In court cases involving Jews, Christians and Muslims, the Court, and the European Commission of Human Rights (ECmHR) that, until 1998, examined the admissibility of applications submitted to the ECtHR, has consistently ruled in favor of the employer versus the employee seeking to practice his or her faith. Five cases show these difficulties:

In the first case, X. v. the United Kingdom (Commission decision of 12 March 1981), a Muslim primary school teacher at the London education system asked for permission to be absent for about 45 minutes on Fridays, in order to pray at a mosque. The headmaster allowed the absence, however the headmasters at the next schools he works at do not do the same. They  iIn fact, the Education Authority finally forced him to resign. The ECmHR held that there had not been interference with the teacher’s religious freedom because he “remained free to resign if and when he found that his teaching obligations conflicted with his religious duties” (par. 14).

In Konttinen v. Finland (Commission decision of 3 December 1996), the claimant is a Seventh-day Adventist Church State Railways’ employee. Per his faith, he can’t work on the Sabbath, Saturday, which begins at sunset on Friday. And so, he left work early 5 times a year when the sun set before his shift ended. The company fired him. The ECmHR held that “…having found his working hours to conflict with his religious convictions, the applicant was free to relinquish his post”, adding that he “…was not dismissed because of his religious convictions but for having refused to respect his working hours” (point of law 2, par. 12).

In the third case, Stedman v. the United Kingdom (Commission decision of 9 April 1997), a travel agency’s assistant manager was required to work on Sundays. After some months, she refused to continue working on Sundays because, as a Christian, it’s a day dedicated to non-commercial, family and religious activities. As a consequence, she was dismissed. The ECmHR reiterated that she was free to resign and she “…was dismissed for failing to agree to work certain hours rather than her religious beliefs as such…” (point of law 1, par. 5).

In Kosteski v. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (judgment of 13 April 2006), the plaintiff worked for the electricity public company of Macedonia. He was absent from work on two Muslim holidays. The company fined him, as he didn’t prove his Muslim faith. The ECtHR supported the employer’s arguments (par. 39), and so did not consider the viability of an accommodation of his religious needs.

In the most recent case, Francesco Sessa v. Italy (judgment of 3 April 2012), concerning a Jewish lawyer, who was the counsel for a plaintiff in a criminal proceeding, the judge set the a hearing on a day coinciding with a Jewish holiday, and rejected his application for a later date, asserting that under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the counsel’s presence was optional. The ECtHR held that there was no interference with the right to religious freedom because the lawyer “…could have arranged to be replaced at the hearing in question…”. And, added, in any case, an interference would be justified on the protection of the public’s right to the proper administration of justice (par. 38).

Three of the seven ECtHR’s judges disagreed. In their dissent, they argued that the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the plaintiff the option to attend the hearing and only the plaintiff can decide whether to take advantage of it. And, a reasonable accommodation of religious freedom was possible without compromising the proper administration of justice: the plaintiff had addressed his need well in advance (par. 10). Because the authorities neither tried that adjustment nor proved its potential damage, there was a violation of religious freedom (par. 15).

As evidenced by these decisions, there is an apparent indifference by the ECtHR toward workers’ religious freedom. The Court supports the employers who do not accommodate the religious needs of their workers, even when an adjustment was not economically disadvantageous. The Court has declared that there was no interference with religious freedom exercise because the employees were “free to resign” (or they could be replaced -in Sessa– or didn’t even show enough evidence of being manifesting their faith -in Kosteski-). Since the ECtHR rejected that, according to Article 9.2 ECHR, there was a limitation (step 2), it does not even enter to value whether it was justified (step 3).

It appears more appropriate to study each situation individually and admit that if the employee’s religious expression conflicts with the work schedule, there is a restriction on his or her right to religious liberty (step 2). Then, it should be checked if this restriction has a legal basis and is really necessary (proportionate) to protect any of the legal interests mentioned in Article 9.2 ECHR – public safety, health, morals or order, or rights and freedoms of others – (step 3). With regards to labor, the most likely impact would be the entrepreneurial freedom – for private companies – or the interest of the general population – in the public sector. It would be about finding balance between the two positions. The ECtHR has followed this reasoning regarding other protected rights for a long time, and yet has failed to do so with respect to religious freedom seeming to have no validity in the workplace, as we have just seen.

Nevertheless, a change of approach is detected in the ECtHR case law. In the last two cases, the Court has at least accepted the appeal and ruled on the merits. And in Sessa v. Italy, the three dissenting judges were in favor of an adequate analysis of this kind of issue and a reasonable accommodation of religious freedom at the workplace. As we observed in a subsequent deceision about religious symbols, this progress continues in Eweida and others v. the United Kingdom of 15 January 2013, which could confirm that the ECtHR’s previous indifference toward employees’ religious freedom may be changing.

The Denial of Religious Freedom Yields Worse Conditions for Women and Atheists

5 Dec, 2014
PRESS RELEASE: In a concise but wide-ranging interview with Simon Smart of CPX-Australia, Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, discusses the adverse impact for women, atheists and society in general when religious freedom is denied.
Rather than religious freedom being in contradiction with other basic human rights, Grim describes how they all advance or decline together.

This is part of wider press coverage during the recent G20 Summit. Stay tuned for Part II, next week.