An Unusual Religious Accommodation / Religious Discrimination Issue:

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A federal bankruptcy judge on Thursday ruled that the Hindu Temple of Georgia must allow creditors onto its property to inventory its assets and must not spend its income.

Attorneys for the temple, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month to avoid foreclosure of its Norcross facility, had sought to block creditors from photographing or entering its holy places. They said any non-Hindus were barred from entering the temple while the priests are undergoing a 216-day period of spiritual cleansing.

However, Judge James E. Massey found a compromise: whoever is sent by creditors to photograph and inventory the rooms must be a Hindu.

Would it be legal for a creditor to assign this particular job task to an employee based on the person’s religion? Would that turn on whether there’s some tangible benefit involved — such as extra overtime pay — rather than just a one-time ask assignment? Would the classification be permissible on the grounds that in this case religion is an acceptable bona fide occupational qualification under Title VII? (For more on BFOQs, though in the context of sex classifications, see here.) Relatedly, what if there’s a controversy about whether the selected person really qualifies as a Hindu?

Or would the creditor likely avoid all this by just using an independent contractor? To my knowledge, religious discrimination in selecting independent contractors is generally not illegal under federal law, though I can’t speak about Georgia law on this.

More broadly, whether or not it’s legal for creditors to do this on their own, there’s also the question whether it’s constitutional for a government agent — the judge — to order it. Is it unconstitutional discrimination based on a person’s religion, or an acceptable accommodation of the temple’s religious practice?

I’m inclined to say that no-one will sue over this; but it still strikes me as an interesting scenario. Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer.

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