Governor Brown Signs Bills Adding Protection for Religious Practices

Governor Brown recently signed two bills that are designed to combat religious discrimination.  The Workplace Religious Freedom Act, AB 1964, amends the Government Code and will protect workers who wear turbans, hijabs, and yarmulkes.  SB 1540, which adds a new section to the Education Code, will make way for the addition of information regarding additional ethnic groups to the school curriculum. 

Under existing law, employers and other covered entities are required to reasonably accommodate an individual’s religious beliefs or observances, unless an accommodation would work an undue hardship on the employer or entity.  AB 1964 provides that a religious dress practice or grooming practice is a belief or observance that must be accommodated.  AB 1964 defines “religious creed,” “religion,” “religious observance,” “religious belief,” and “creed” to “include all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice, including religious dress and grooming practices.” 

The Act provides that the term “religious dress practice” must “be construed broadly to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.”  It further provides that the term “religious grooming practice” must “be construed broadly to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.”  AB 1964 instructs that “[a]n accommodation of an individual’s religious dress practice or religious grooming practice is not reasonable if the accommodation requires segregation of the individual from other employees or the public.”  However, an employer is not required to provide an accommodation if the accommodation “would result in a violation of this part or any other law prohibiting discrimination or protecting civil rights.” 

SB 1540 also adds section 60200.8 to the Education Code and authorizes the State Board of Education to “consider the adoption of a revised curriculum framework and evaluation criteria for instructional materials in history-social science.”  Revision of the history-social science framework, which is underway but was temporarily halted in 2009, includes information relating to the role of Sikhs and Korean Americans, among others. 


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Bruce A. Scheidt, Laura Izon Powell, David W. Tyra, or Christian M. Keiner | 916.321.4500