Country: US

State: Michigan


Ann belongs to a denomination that accepts the existence of transgender people as what they claim they are. Ann starts a company that grows to over 25 employees, at which point the company must follow EEOC regulations, which include nondiscrimination on the basis of religion.

Then let's say a different Christian, Christine, applies for a job at Ann's company. Christine previously worked for a Christian organization that belongs to a denomination which believes that transgenderism is against God. When Ann sees this past experience on Christine's resume, she immediately excludes Christine from consideration for employment.

If Christine wanted to sue Ann's company, would she have a case? Let's assume that Ann gave written evidence to Christine that she was excluded because of her past religious work - clearly, few employers would be stupid enough to do this, but let's grant that assumption for the purposes of this question.

How would the law settle a dispute like this - one that is between two Christians with divergent beliefs.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 4:22

4 Answers 4


This question fundamentally is not about religion in any way.

Based on your question, Christine would not be discriminating against people from Ann's own sect, only against transgender people. If Ann has reason to believe that Christine will behave in a discriminatory way to transgender people, Ann can legitimately exclude her to prevent harm to other employees, customers and company reputation.

If Christine's hypothetical sect also requires her to shun anyone who believes that transgender people should have rights, this merely extends Ann's reasons for excluding her. Ann's Christian sect would clearly be covered by this, but so too would most atheists, humanists and agnostics. Again, this demonstrates that excluding Christine is not based on divergent beliefs of two Christian sects.

That said, Christine could legitimately object that working within an organisation does not necessarily mean she adheres to the same belief system as everyone else in that organisation. If she can demonstrate that she does not believe in the same things as that Christian sect, then Ann perhaps should consider including her. However since Ann is not discriminating based on religious belief but rather based on the potential harm caused by acting on those beliefs in a way which impacts on other people, this does not put Christine in a strong legal position.

We should also remember that the law will generally "settle" civil lawsuits to the benefit of the person with the deepest pockets. The most likely outcome of Christine lawyering-up is Christine's bankrupcy and Ann's company being put out of business.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 4:23

The law doesn't distinguish between two Christians with divergent beliefs, or between an atheist and a Christian (obviously with divergent beliefs). The law simply does not care what religion you have, or whether you have one. The law just says "follow the law!".

The complication is that part of the First Amendment which says that the law is to be neutral as to religion also has what's known as the "Free Exercise Clause", the part that says "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", which has been taken to refer to actions undertaken because of that belief. There have been various rulings on the conflict between religious doctrine and laws requiring or prohibiting certain actions (mandatory flag salutes, conscription, religious pamphleting). When a law conflicts with a fundamental right such as a right protected by the First Amendment, such a law is allowed only in narrow circumstances (known as strict scrutiny).

It is up to Congress to state what kinds of First Amendment-based exceptions there are to laws. In a case involving the draft, SCOTUS held in US v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 that

The test of religious belief within the meaning of the exemption in § 6(j) is whether it is a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption

This view underlies the current regulation on employment and religious discrimination in 29 CFR 1605.1 that

In most cases whether or not a practice or belief is religious is not at issue. However, in those cases in which the issue does exist, the Commission will define religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.

The question that EEOC or the courts would have to answer is, what fundamental life belief is being violated by compelling a certain action? Forcing Muslims to eat pork violates a fundamental belief of Muslims. Prohibiting Muslim employers from discriminating against pork-eaters does not violate those beliefs, because there is no fundamental life belief held by Muslims that it is a mortal sin to hire pork eaters.

In this case, Ann is at a disadvantage because she can't maintain that being forced to hire Christine violates a fundamental belief of hers (it's like refusing to hire pork-eaters). If Christine was obnoxious in espousing her viewpoint in a manner that reflected badly on Ann's business, Ann can fire Christine. Ann might, on those same grounds, refuse to hire Christine if there was a well-justified belief that such damage to her business will result (you don't have to wait until your business is destroyed). The (implied) fact on Christine's resume is not sufficient evidence that Christine will cause a problem for Ann's business. Instead, it is a plain instance of religious discrimination, which is prohibited by law.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 4:23
  • I think (I may be wrong) that muslims have rather strong feelings against muslim pork eaters. They don't care about Christian pork eaters, and they don't care about Jewish pork eaters, who according to their own religion shouldn't eat pork.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 19:46

I'm not a lawyer, but this sounds like a clear-cut case of religious discrimination to me.

You say in a follow-up comment, "I think it can't be religious discrimination because the company owner is also a Christian." But no, that's not how the law works. Discrimination on the basis of religion is illegal no matter how close or far apart the people involved are or what they call themselves. Yes, it's illegal for a Christian to discriminate against Buddhists or vice versa, but it's just as illegal for a Protestant to discriminate against Catholics or for a General Association Baptist to discriminate against Southern Baptists. If you tried to defend yourself in court against a charge of religious discrimination by saying "but we agree about many religious doctrines, it's just this one doctrine that we disagree about that is important enough to me that I didn't want to have this person working for my company" ... I can't imagine that a judge would listen to such an argument for a second. Whether your religious disagreement is broad or narrow, over big issues or small issues, doesn't matter. You're not allowed to discriminate against someone solely because you don't approve of their religious beliefs.

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    Key takeaway is discrimination laws deal with whether discrimination took place. It has nothing to do with the sharing of beliefs or quality. A woman can sexually discriminate against other women if she has a belief that women are "inferior" and should not be hired. Her being a woman makes no difference.
    – Nelson
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 4:14
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    Exactly, and excellent point. A woman who said, "I refuse to hire a woman because women are flighty and emotional" would be just as guilty of discrimination as a man who said the same thing. Whether she considered herself to be flighty and emotional too, or whether she thought that she was the rare exception, it wouldn't matter.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 14:27

Caveat: I am not a lawyer.

The facts, as stated, do not indicate religious discrimination. There is no indication that Ann either knew or considered Christine's religious beliefs in her decision. But that does not mean Christine does not have a case.

The issue is the details of why Ann refused to hire Christine:

  • Absolutely religious discrimination: "You worked for religious organization X, therefore I assume you hold the tenets of religion X, and therefore I refuse to hire you."
  • Absolutely NOT religious discrimination: "You worked for (religious) organization X, which I do not like, and therefore I refuse to hire you."

Christine would have a case if she could convince the court that Ann did assume Christine is a member of that particular religion and that that is the reason she was not hired. If Christine's lawyer could convince the judge to allow arguments of the form "Obviously Ann assumed Christine was a member of religion X", she could have a strong case.

On the other hand, Ann could have a compelling defense if she claimed: "Religious Organization X has performed public acts Y and Z and I refuse to hire anyone who would have anything to do with such activities. I did not ask and was not told what Christine's personal religious beliefs are, so I did not consider them when making this decision."

Refusing to hire someone because you have issues with their previous employer is entirely legal. It doesn't matter if the employer happens to be a religious organization.

I'm not saying it isn't stupid. Maybe Christine worked for that organization and came to hate their stance, and that's why she is quitting and looking for work with Ann's company.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 4:23

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