Labor and Employment

Fingerprinting: Violation of Religious Freedom?

Job applicants and employees around the country find themselves being asked to provide proof they're on the straight and narrow. Sometimes, their religious beliefs can prevent fulfilling the requirements.

One Texas teacher refused to comply with a new state law requiring all teachers to be fingerprinted. The reason? It goes against her religious beliefs.

Some Practices Interfere with Beliefs

A Texas teacher who's been teaching for 20 years is suing the State of Texas in federal court for requiring her to be fingerprinted. The teacher believes in a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation found in the Bible. She believes she'll be condemned to hell if she is fingerprinted, because fingerprinting would give her the mark of the beast.

The teacher's attorney says she's willing to undergo any other type of background check. The school district's attorney agrees that the suit brings up interesting questions about a person's freedom of religion and a school's need to protect its students.

The Texas law requiring teachers to be fingerprinted goes into effect in 2011. However, the teacher is suing now, hoping to get the court's opinion before the deadline for fingerprinting arrives.

Some people's religious beliefs forbid them from giving an oath, or from swearing under oath. The key question a judge or attorney analyzing the situation will need to know is whether the religious belief is sincerely held.

Background Checks Okay

Applying for a job can already make you feel intimidated, and adding background checks, reference checks or fingerprinting can make it seem even more so. It's best to be candid with the prospective employer if your religious beliefs conflict with such steps. And always be honest in your application and interview, even if there are things in your past you aren't proud of. If the employer finds out that you gave false information after hiring you, you'll likely be fired.

There are risks you run in agreeing to a background check or fingerprinting. One is that once the employer gets this information, they might pass it on to someone else on purpose or accidentally. Permission forms you sign should state the information will be used only for the job application.

Another risk is that your current employer might learn that you're looking for another job. If you don't want them to know, be sure to state that on your application or in your interview.

Some Requirements Can Violate Freedoms

It's against the law for employers to discriminate against people on the basis of certain things such as gender, age and religion. It's also against the law for them to fire or discipline you for making a complaint about the discrimination or about harassment.

If you believe that you've been denied a job, demoted, fired or disciplined because of your religious beliefs, seek the advice of an attorney. It's important to talk with a lawyer promptly, as there are strict time deadlines for you or the lawyer to notify the employer, and then file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or your state's human rights department.

You can find helpful information about the process on the EEOC's web site. Also, check the web site or call the information line for the Department of Human Rights where you live and where the employer is located.

Don't take these checks personally. Many employers are becoming more security conscious, especially when you work with children, handle money or company secrets.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I have to be put under oath in court if that goes against my religious beliefs?
  • Can I swear over the Koran or Torah, instead of the Bible?
  • Can my employer stop me working because I won't get fingerprinted?
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