Words have meanings, and sometimes imprecision in the use of a word can affect substantive legal rights. In illustration of this principle, from Chicago comes the tale of Lord Osunfarian Xodus. The case is Xodus v. Wackenhut.
A Rastafarian who wears dreadlocks, Xodus applied for a job as a security guard with Wackenhut Corporation. At his interview Xodus was told that Wackenhut has a grooming policy that would require him to cut his hair. Xodus responded that cutting his hair was against his "belief," without specifying that the belief was religiously based. As a result, he was not hired.
At trial the court found the person who conducted the interview for Wackenhut was not told that Xodus claimed a religious basis for his refusal to lose his dreadlocks. Neither did the circumstances compel the conclusion that the interviewer should have known of the religious consideration.
In affirming the judgment of the trial court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that "unlike race or sex, a person’s religious belief is not always readily apparent." Thus, Xodus had an obligation to bring his religious belief to Wackenhut’s attention, and his failure to do so was fatal to his claim of religious discrimination.
So "belief" does not necessarily mean "religious belief." If Xodus had used the adjective "religious" to modify "belief," the case probably would have had a different outcome. As noted above, words have meanings, and we need to be mindful of that in our business dealings.