Religious Discrimination

Federal law does not prohibit religious discrimination in private contracts.

Church Law & Tax Report

Religious Discrimination

Federal law does not prohibit religious discrimination in private contracts.

Key point. Federal law prohibits racial discrimination in private contracts. But, this law does not prevent discrimination in private contracts based on religion or national origin.

A federal court in Michigan ruled that a priest did not violate federal law by urging parishioners not to use the services of a photographer based on his Muslim faith. A Muslim American of Albanian descent (the “plaintiff”) was married to a woman who, along with their three children, attended a Catholic church. Plaintiff is a professional photographer and videographer who owns his business. He relies heavily for much of his income on weddings, communions, anniversaries, or other celebratory events, which are sometimes held in a hall owned and operated by his wife’s church. The plaintiff sued the priest of his wife’s church, claiming that he instructed his parishioners not to use the plaintiff’s services as a photographer because he was “a Muslim, terrorist, or member of the Taliban.” This conduct, the plaintiff asserted, violated a federal statute (42 U.S.C. § 1981) prohibiting racial discrimination in private contracts.

The statute in question (42 U.S.C. § 1981) provides:

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.

This section prohibits racial discrimination during the scope of a private contractual relationship, including discrimination in the workplace. The priest asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit since the plaintiff was alleging religious discrimination which is not protected under the statute. The court agreed: “To the extent that Count I of Plaintiff’s complaint asserts a § 1981 claim based upon religious discrimination, plaintiff fails to state a claim because § 1981 does not prohibit religious discrimination.”

What This Means for Churches:

This case illustrates that a federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in private contracts does not necessarily apply to an interference with contract that is based on religion. Ziba v. Kcira, 2011 WL 2214666 (E.D. Mich. 2011).

This Recent Development first appeared in Church Law and Tax Report, May/June 2012.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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