Government Employee Religion

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49 Ariz. St. L.J. 1193 (2017). Caroline Mala Corbin.

Picture a county clerk who refuses to issue a marriage license to an LGBT couple or a city bus driver who insists on wearing a hijab. The clerk is fired for failing to fulfill job responsibilities and the bus driver for violating official dress codes. Both claim that their termination violates the First Amendment speech and religion clauses.

There is a well-developed First Amendment government employee speech jurisprudence. Less developed is the doctrine and literature for First Amendment government employee religion. The existing Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence usually does not specifically account for the government employee context. This Article attempts to fill that gap by developing a government employee religion doctrine based on the existing government employee speech doctrine.

Part I summarizes government employee speech doctrine. Part II imagines a parallel government employee religion doctrine and applies it to the opening hypotheticals. It concludes that government employees who are religiously opposed to an aspect of their job would lose their religion claims for multiple reasons. In contrast, employees who wish to wear religious garb have much stronger claims. Part III addresses two concerns with my proposed government employee religion doctrine. One criticism is that government employee speech doctrine is too flawed to serve as a model. Another is that speech and religion are too dissimilar to base one on the other.

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