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Updated Religious Discrimination Guidance Approved by Split EEOC

Jan. 15, 2021, 11:53 PM

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted to finalize changes to its guidance on religious discrimination in the workplace, updating that section of its compliance manual for the first time since 2008.

The workplace civil rights agency modernized the guidance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions from at least the last 13 years. The guidance speaks to the discord between anti-discrimination laws and religious liberties, but beyond including examples of how the courts have “analyzed them,” it doesn’t address whether one takes precedence over the other.

The agency’s leadership panel voted 3-2 to approve the updates. The Democratic members of the EEOC opposed the new guidance, and the Republican majority voted in favor. The agency announced the vote after canceling a Jan. 15 public meeting scheduled on the matter.

Civil rights groups, members of Congress, and some associations advocating on behalf of religious minorities decried the updates, saying the consideration process was rushed and that some updated interpretations of the law could “embolden” discrimination against women and LGBT people.

For example, the Sikh Coalition, an organization advocating on behalf of Sikh Americans, said they were excluded from weighing in on the guidance, when they’d previously been consulted on updates.

The group met with Democratic commissioners Charlotte Burrows and Jocelyn Samuels to express their concerns after the agency unveiled the proposed changes, Sikh Coalition spokesperson Graham West said in an email. But requests to meet with Republican commissioner members Chair Janet Dhillon, Keith Sonderling, and Andrea Lucas were either declined or not acknowledged, West said.

Other religious organizations, however, praised the EEOC’s proposed changes, saying they provide “greater precision and clarity.”

The EEOC took into account the Sikh organization’s requests to alter some descriptions of their religious practices “to improve accuracy and reduce rather than reinforce bias or stereotypes,” according to the final rule.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at; Martha Mueller Neff at; Andrew Harris at