Courts Are Reluctant To Explore The Sincerity Of Employees’ Religious Beliefs
Plaintiff was terminated because she absented herself from work on a Sunday to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for her church. She sued her employer for failing to accommodate her religious beliefs. A federal judge summarily dismissed plaintiff’s claims, ruling that her being an avid church member did not elevate this groundbreaking ceremony into a legally protectable religious practice. The federal court of appeals, in New Orleans, reversed the lower court’s dismissal in Davis v. Fort Bend County, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 16470 (5th Cir. 2014), clearing the way for the case to proceed to trial.
The employer disputed whether plaintiff had sincerely believed she was religiously compelled to attend and participate in the groundbreaking ceremony. The appellate court emphasized the courts’ historical reluctance to delve into the sincerity of an individual’s professed religious beliefs. The court stated:
This court has cautioned that judicial inquiry into the sincerity of a person’s religious belief “must be handled with a light touch, or judicial shyness”…. “[E]xamin[ing] religious convictions any more deeply would stray into the realm of religious inquiry, an area into which we are forbidden to tread.”… Indeed, “the sincerity of a plaintiff’s engagement in a particular religious practice is rarely challenged,” and “claims of sincere religious belief in a particular practice have been accepted on little more than the plaintiff’s credible assertions.” (Emphasis added)