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Clinton Calls for Religious Freedom in Federal Workplace

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 1997 – President Clinton issued new guidelines Aug. 14 defining when federal employees can participate in religious activities in the workplace.

At first glance, the president's executive order doesn't apply to military personnel, but DoD's Chaplains Board is studying the guidelines to determine whether changes to regulations should be made. DoD regulations already permit expression of religious beliefs and allow the wearing of certain religious apparel.

DoD spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon said the president's executive order says that federal employees may engage in personal religious expression as long as it doesn't interfere with job performance or violate others' rights; that employers may not discriminate on the basis of religion; and that a federal agency must reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices.

"The Department of Defense has long had a regulation that says a basic principle of our nation is free exercise of religion," said Bacon, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "DoD places a high value on the rights of members of the armed forces to observe the tenets of their respective religions and then lays out how religious practices can be accommodated by the military."

"The military has a wonderful history accommodating people of all faiths," said Navy Chaplain (Capt.) Mel Ferguson of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board.

Clinton said his guidelines "clarify and reinforce the right of religious expression in the federal workplace and ensure federal employees and employers will respect the rights of those who engage in religious speech as well as those who do not.

"No one can seriously question that it strengthens our young people to be able to pursue their own religious convictions and, thereby, gain values and strengths, hope and reassurance that come with faith," Clinton said.

The president instructed the Office of Personnel Management to distribute the guidelines to all civilian branch agencies and officials.

"We expect all employees to follow them carefully," Clinton said.

People of many different faiths have put down roots in America and pursued their beliefs freely, he noted. "The churches, synagogues, mosques and other institutions of worship have built not only their own houses of worship, they have also quite frequently become centers of service, compassion and community life; and in so doing have made our entire nation stronger," Clinton said.

"Religious freedom is at the heart of what it means to be an American, and at the heart of our journey to become truly one America."

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