Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Religion in the Workplace: A Report on the Layers of Relevant Law in the United States

15 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2009  

William W. Van Alstyne

Duke University School of Law; William & Mary Law School


This article reports on the thick layers of law applicable to claims of religious exception to public and private employment workplaces in the United States. It reviews the Supreme Court's First and Fourteenth Amendment salient holdings, distinguishing public sector (government) workplaces, and the extent to which legislative bodies may and may not oblige private employers to "accommodate" religiously-asserted requirements. It also provides exhaustive footnote analyses of all major federal statutes (plus some representative state and local law variations) pertinent to the topic. Its principal conclusions are these: In the currently prevailing view of the U.S. Supreme Court, neither public nor private employers are required to bend workplace rules to excuse or exempt employees claiming religious grounds for noncompliance. Nonetheless, a myriad of laws, federal as well as state and local, do impose such requirements, as the author fully notes. (At the end of that review, the author then poses his own question to challenge the reader's intuitions on this subject, namely, this: what makes "religious" objections so special or different that they shall be specially privileged, while other kinds of objections are not?)

Suggested Citation

Van Alstyne, William W., Religion in the Workplace: A Report on the Layers of Relevant Law in the United States. Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2009; William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-15. Available at SSRN:

William Van Alstyne (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views