Equal Protection for Other Groups

THE RIGHTS OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

The right to worship as a person chooses was one of the reasons for the initial settlement of the United States. Thus, it is ironic that many people throughout U.S. history have been denied their civil rights because of their status as members of a religious minority. Beginning in the early nineteenth century with the immigration of large numbers of Irish Catholics to the United States, anti-Catholicism became a common feature of American life and remained so until the mid-twentieth century. Catholic immigrants were denied jobs, and in the 1830s and 1840s anti-Catholic literature accused Catholic priests and nuns of committing horrific acts. Anti-Mormon sentiment was also quite common, and Mormons were accused of kidnapping women and building armies for the purpose of dominating their non-Mormon neighbors. At times, these fears led to acts of violence. A convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, was burned to the ground in 1834.See Nancy Lusignan Schultz. 2000. Fire and Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent. New York: Free Press. In 1844, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, and his brother were murdered by a mob in Illinois.See Richard L. Bushman. 2005. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

For many years, American Jews faced discrimination in employment, education, and housing based on their religion. Many of the restrictive real estate covenants that prohibited people from selling their homes to African Americans also prohibited them from selling to Jews, and a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the most prestigious universities in the United States limited the number of Jewish students accepted. Indeed, a tradition of confronting discrimination led many American Jews to become actively involved in the civil rights movements for women and African Americans.See Frederic Cople Jaher. 1994. A Scapegoat in the Wilderness: The Origins and Rise of Anti-Semitism in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Today, open discrimination against Jews in the United States is less common, although anti-Semitic sentiments still remain. In the twenty-first century, especially after the September 11 attacks, Muslims are the religious minority most likely to face discrimination. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employment discrimination on the basis of religion and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations so that employees can engage in religious rituals and practices, Muslim employees are often discriminated against. Often the source of controversy is the wearing of head coverings by observant Muslims, which some employers claim violates uniform policies or dress codes, even when non-Muslim coworkers are allowed to wear head coverings that are not part of work uniforms.“Combatting Religious Discrimination and Protecting Religious Freedom,” http://www.justice.gov/crt/combating-religious-discrimination-and-protecting-religious-freedom-16 (April 10, 2016). Hate crimes against Muslims have also increased since 9/11, and many Muslims believe they are subject to racial profiling by law enforcement officers who suspect them of being terrorists.Eric Lichtblau, “Crimes Against Muslim Americans and Mosques Rise Sharply,” New York Times, 17 December 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/us/politics/crimes-against-muslim-americans-and-mosques-rise-sharply.html?_r=0.

In another irony, many Christians have recently argued that they are being deprived of their rights because of their religious beliefs and have used this claim to justify their refusal to acknowledge the rights of others. The owner of Hobby Lobby Stores, for example, a conservative Christian, argued that his company’s health-care plan should not have to pay for contraception because his religious beliefs are opposed to the practice. In 2014, in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. _ (2014). As discussed earlier, many conservative Christians have also argued that they should not have to recognize same-sex marriages because they consider homosexuality to be a sin.