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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Legislation

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, America was founded on the principle of religious freedom. Many of us are descended not just from the Pilgrims, but from so many others Catholics, Jews, and many more who fled persecution in search of a land where they could practice their religion and simply be who they are. Our very Constitution exists to secure the blessings of that freedom to ourselves and to our children.

Even so, charges of religious discrimination in the workplace have been on the rise for more than a decade. Between 1992 and 2007, the latest period for which we have data, claims of religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have more than doubled, from 1,388 to 2,880. There is no way to tell how many people simply quit their job rather than complain.

But in a Nation founded on freedom of religion, no American should ever have to choose between keeping a job and keeping faith with their cherished religious beliefs and traditions. I have been deeply involved in this issue since 1996 and once again I am introducing the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act is designed to protect people who encounter on-the-job discrimination because of their religious beliefs and practices. It protects, within reason, time off for religious observances. It protects the wearing of yarmulkes, hijabs, turbans and Mormon garments--all the distinctive marks of religious practices, all the things that people of faith should never be forced to hide.

Writing religious freedom into law is not easy. I have been trying to make the Workplace Religious Freedom Act law for 15 years. I have worked with a range of partners from Senator Santorum and Senator BROWNBACK to Senator LIEBERMAN, and most recently Senator HATCH and I have been working together behind the scenes to move this issue forward. In doing so, it has been a difficult challenge to balance so many interests and legitimate concerns and to keep up with changing times.

This bill represents years of discussion about religious tolerance and equal treatment and is a compromise between many different views. I hope it serves as the beginning of a new discussion as to how we can move forward in the next Congress and beyond because addressing this issue is long overdue.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record.


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