Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rhode Island & Religion: Origins, Demographics and Discrimination

From its origin to the present, religion has been an important part of Rhode Island.  Clergyman, Roger Williams founded the present state capital, Providence, after being exiled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans in 1636.  Other religious exiles founded Pocasset (now known as Portsmouth) in 1638 and Newport in 1639.

Despite its religious origins, or perhaps because of its rebellious, authority-defying nature, Rhode Island is one of the least religious states in the country.  According to a recent Gallup survey, only 32% of Rhode Islanders are "very religious," which places Rhode Island tied with New York as the 10th least religious state in the union.  Nonreligious residents comprise 37% of Rhode Island population and 31% are moderately religious.  With 63% of its residents either very or moderately religious, Rhode Island is lower than 68% of all Americans who are religious.  Nevertheless, Rhode Islanders are more religious than the residents of other New England states (CT 57%, MA 53%, ME 52%, NH 48%, and VT 43%).

In such a mix of religious and non-religious beliefs, employers should be mindful of religious discrimination in the workplace.  For example, employers must face the somewhat paradoxical decision of taking into account an employee's religion when making certain workplace decisions (accommodations) while at other times ignoring an employee's religion (e.g. hiring decisions).

With only a few exceptions, an employer may not fire, demote, terminate, or otherwise take actions against an employee because of her religion.  The rare exception to this general rule is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), such as hiring a Catholic man to be a priest in a Catholic church.

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