Should religion really be a protected class? Should political orientation be one?

So my understanding is that in the US and Canada, there are a number of groups that are defined that explicitly protected by law against certain forms of discrimination - eg. employer discrimination against people based on their membership of that class, or discrimination by the government based on these memberships. Most of these groups make sense to me - race, colour, nation of origin, sex and/or gender, age, disability, genetics - these are all things that people have no control over whether they are members of that group. However, religion stands out as a protected class that is different from the others - people choose what religion they belong to, what beliefs they have, and how they express those beliefs.

I can understand that, historically, there was a vast amount of discrimination based on religion (and there still is, in many parts of the world). But to me, religion and political orientation are extremely similar - in both cases, what religion you belong to or what political orientation you align with are likely heavily influenced by the environment in which you are raised, but individuals can ultimately choose whether to embrace, reject, or modify the beliefs that they are taught (though, given that there is some evidence that there are differences in brain structure between liberals and conservatives, I wonder just how much choice people actually have in what political orientation they are). Thus, it seems like if one category should be a protected class, so should the other.

Likely, from a pragmatic standpoint, discrimination based on religion needed to be protected against and discrimination based on political orientation historically was limited enough that society deemed it acceptable (or maybe even desirable?). But as political polarization continues to rise, the amount of discrimination that will occur based on orientation might also be expected to rise - in this thread about whether it was ethical to screen job applications based on whether they were Trump supporters or not, I seem to recall a great number of people justifying discrimination of hiring based on that factor (though many others argued otherwise). In my opinion, this is not a good thing.

A quick search suggests that several jurisdictions HAVE added political orientation as a protected class in some contexts (eg. for employment law in California, and more broadly in the city of Seattle and the state of New Mexico). So, certainly, there is some support for protecting people from discrimination based on their political orientation - but what say you, Dopers?

If you don’t think political orientation should be a protected class, how do you feel about religion being a protected class?

I also don’t think it makes sense to delineate between the two consider that both are things that you choose, but are not necessarily born with - unlike race, sex, etc.

If I had to choose, though, I’d favor protecting both rather than eliminating protections for both.

One thing that distinguishes religious beliefs from political beliefs to me is that certain aspects of religious beliefs can’t be hidden. For example, when I meet a Republican, unless he has political clothing or pins on, I have no idea he is a Republican until he talks about politics. When I meet a person of from the Sikh faith, I know instantly from his religious mandated turban and beard what his faith is. I think an employer can validly say to an employee, politics has no place at work, but an employer who prohibits a religious employee from wearing the clothing/beard/jewelry (absent some really important, non-discriminatory reason) required by his religion or following the tenants of the religion at work, seems very different to me.

I will note that religion as a protected class also protects against no religion. So that protection protects an employer from refusing to hire atheists. That protection is in place partially to protect historically discriminated religions - Jewish people, Muslims, Catholics (at the time) etc.

If you defend political orientations as a protected class, does that mean you have to hire White Supremacist? That could be very problematic.

It’s still the adherent’s choice to agree with that mandate. (And likewise nothing prevents a political party from imposing sumptuary rules on its members. Those members are free to comply or to leave the party.)

A person could reject his religion for a job. I don’t see the utility to society to allow an employer to make a person do this. I do see the utility in allowing an employer to make the place of business a politics free zone.

Insofar as it would discourage the practice of religion, some materialists and atheists might consider that a societal good. (Of course, a great many others might prefer less coercive ways of dissuading people from religion, and others still don’t care that others practice religion so long as their own rights aren’t impinged.)

One way religion is similar to other protected traits is that most people don’t want a society where you have to call ahead and ask, “Do you take my kind?”


If you expand “kind” to include everything that a person chooses to believe in, how could anything not be a protected class?

I am a convinced atheist. I have no desire to prohibit anyone from practicing their religion. I have a problem with anyone forcing ME to practice their religion. While I dont pretend to speak for any other atheist, I believe this to be a pretty mainstream opinion among atheists.

Pretty much the same.

I’m sure it is, but there have been other mainstream opinions in other times and places. Heck, there were (and still are) officially atheist countries that systematically discriminated against believers in furtherance of their efforts for social progress (as they saw it). In these countries it could be difficult or impossible to get certain jobs (teacher, professor, civil servant) if you were openly faithful; you might not even have been able to get the necessary education in the first place.

Because historically religion is a thing that we believe in that can bring down government level persecution, violence and death.

Your post is an excellent example of why religion needs to be a protected class.

There is also the argument (Hume?) that religions will compete against each other for membership. A healthy variety of religions ensures that each will try for a more broad and moderate appeal, and in this way religious extremism becomes less of a threat.


Someone argued in another thread that the competition of religions in the US for members had made them evolutionarily ‘fitter’ - better at attracting and retaining members - compared to those in a country with a state sponsored religion. This does not seem to necessarily be a good thing.

As for the OP, yes, I think both should be a protected class, within reason. Eg, I don’t think employers should have to allow employees to talk politics or wear political symbols at work, but nor should they be able to fire them for voting the wrong way, or expressing their political affiliation outside of work.

Hume lived in the 18th century. Has this ever be true in any general way since his time?

Historically, this is not particularly true (and for certain religions, still not particularly true). Religion is something that is deeply ingrained by parents and society at an early age and very few people make a conscious choice to change their beliefs.

I think, philosophically, it might not really be true either. I do not practice the religion of my parents, but it’s not obvious to me that I chose my beliefs. You can choose to observe religious rituals, and certainly there are people who “pass” as religious believers, but can you choose your beliefs?

Even if you assume that religious beliefs are entirely optional, society may not really agree. Think about bigots who base their ire on people with traditionally Jewish names.

I am open to the idea of political orientation being a protected class, although I think it might cause more trouble than help. In comparison to historical examples with race and religion, there are exceedingly few establishments that are blanket refusing service to people who belong to certain political parties. There aren’t any Republican/Democrat sundown towns, for example. If that starts to change, I’d be more inclined to grant political orientation protected status.

Political orientation as a protected class would almost certainly lead to a challenge by the Fuck Your Feelings Superspreader Convention against some hotel chain. Is that a thing we want to support as a society?

Sure. The Catholic Church, for instance, has within memory softened its stance on certain issues like divorced, or cohabitating/homosexual parishioners.


Far too often the word “down” seems to get lost in the shuffle.