Freedom to believe and practice one’s own religion was one of the primary factors that motivated people to travel to colonial America and continues to motivate similar journeys today. Consequently, it is not surprising that discrimination based on religion is one of the specific kinds of discrimination protected under both federal and Idaho law. Since 1969 the Idaho Human Rights Act (Title 67, Chapter 59 of the Idaho Code) has prohibited discrimination in employment, public accommodations, education, and real estate transactions on the basis of religion.
Most religious discrimination claims brought to the Commission do not question whether a belief or practice is actually religious in nature, and thus, entitled to legal protection. Occasionally, however, that issue is raised. Case law defines “religion” in a broad way that includes moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held by the individual person with the strength of traditional religious views. The fact that no religious group espouses such belief, or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief, does not determine whether the belief is “religious” to that individual.
Courts have also held that the freedom not to believe is also a religious belief protected by the anti-discrimination statutes. For example, an employee who is an atheist may be a victim of religious discrimination if she is required to attend her employer’s monthly staff meetings that begin with religious exercises which she, as an atheist, finds objectionable.
Discrimination comes in many forms. Here are some examples:
The Idaho Human Rights Act also prohibits religious discrimination by places of public accommodation, (such as stores, restaurants, theatres, or care facilities) educational institutions, and those engaged in real estate transactions (such as landlords, home sellers, or real estate lenders.) Claims of religious discrimination in any of the areas are not made very frequently to the Commission. Occasionally, however, the Commission does get reports of stores that offer merchandise discounts to people who belong to one religion; of service refused to customers wearing traditional religious garments; or of home owners who prefer to rent or sell their home to members of their own church. The rule is basic: Individuals should not be treated more or less favorably in any of these areas because of their religious beliefs or practices. Decisions about providing service, educational benefits, or real estate transactions should be made without regard to someone’s religious preferences.
Idaho law recognizes the right of religious corporations, associations, societies, churches, and schools to exercise a preference for their own members or to provide some services for their own members only. More information about the scope of these exceptions is available on the IHRC website or by contacting the office.
A person who believes he or she has been treated adversely because of religion should contact the Idaho Human Rights Commission. An administrative complaint may be filed. The employer will be notified of any administrative charge filed and given an opportunity to respond. The Commission will attempt to mediate between the parties and resolve the case on a “no fault” basis. If that is not possible, an investigation will be done. The Commission will advise the parties as to whether there is “probable cause” or “no probable cause” to believe that illegal discrimination occurred.
In addition to this administrative charge processing system, the harmed party or the Commission can file an action in state district court to enforce the anti-discrimination law. The administrative claim must be filed first, however, and a lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of dismissal of the case by the Commission.
Retaliation against an individual who has engaged in a protected activity is unlawful. "Protected activity" means opposing conduct which a person, in good faith, reasonably believes to be unlawful under the anti-discrimination statutes or participating in Commission proceedings, which are set up for the enforcement of the anti-discrimination statutes.