Opinion California must honor its commitment to religious diversity

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer escorts a condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer escorts a condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison.

California has long been a beacon of diversity and a welcoming home for religious minorities. Indeed, countless state officials have highlighted this public commitment in recent months in challenging President Trump’s travel ban. Ahead of his January confirmation, for example, Attorney General Xavier Becerra praised California as “a welcoming state,” and condemned religious discrimination as “antithetical to (our) deepest constitutional values and traditions.”

Despite this pledge of tolerance, however, one large group of believers stands to be shut out: Sabbath observers. Absent immediate attention from these same state officials, those who faithfully observe the ancient practice of abstaining from work on the Sabbath will remain unwelcome from working as correctional officers in the largest prison system in the country.

In a case headed for trial in Sacramento, the question is simple: Can the state deny jobs to certain religious minorities because of their religious commitments? The case, Teresa Brown vs. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, involves the California prison system’s refusal to hire a Seventh-day Adventist as a prison guard because of her religious observance from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The state’s policy — which insists all applicants pledge availability 24/7, 365 days a year — also would exclude members of the Jewish, Mormon, Cherokee or any other faith with a similar belief. It must not stand.

Brown is a lifelong Adventist who overcame an impoverished childhood to become a nursing assistant for inmates at the Department of Corrections. Still struggling to make ends meet as a single mother of two, however, she sought a higher-paying job as a guard. After months of forms, interviews, a written exam, and a physical-fitness test, Brown looked forward to being a correctional officer. The Pine Grove (Amador County) resident was rejected solely because of her inability to work on her Sabbath.

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