The U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment are the starting point. The First Amendment mandates a series of freedoms including freedom of religion, along with others such as freedom of speech, and the press and of peaceful assembly and petition.
But it also includes another clause, prohibiting Congress from passing laws “respecting the establishment of religion.” For many this is the dictate – usually referred to as the requirement of the separate of church and state – we most closely associate with the First Amendment. And it’s in this realm that the First Amendment is so often misunderstood. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean that religion is banned from the public square. Nor is it binding on the private sector. It means, stated simply, that government cannot endorse any one religion or intrude on the rights of its subjects to practice their religious beliefs.
What does this mean for corporate or non-profit employers? For these sectors, it means you can allow for the religious needs of your employees without running afoul of church/state issues. And as set forth below, there are other laws that require you to do this, at least sometimes.