US Supreme Court to rule on Sabbath observance

And new moon after new moon, And Shabbat after Shabbat, All flesh shall come to worship Me —said Hashem




(the israel bible)

April 20, 2023

4 min read

The US Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will drastically affect whether workers who observe the fourth commandment will be required to violate the Sabbath.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Groff v. DeJoy, an appeal filed by Gerald Groff, a former mail carrier in Pennsylvania, who claimed his employer, the Postal Service, discriminated against him for being religious when they disciplined him for repeatedly refusing to work on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Groff is suing Louis DeJoy, the US Postmaster General, 

In 2012, Groff was hired as a “rural carrier associate”  filling in for more senior career employees during absences in the towns of Quarryville and Holtwood in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County.

The problem began in 2013 when the Postal Service signed a contract with Amazon that required them to deliver on Sundays. Previous to this, USPS did not operate on Sundays like other federal employers. The success of Amazon Sunday delivery was critical to USPS. 

“I believe in a literal keeping of the Lord’s Day,” Groff said. “It’s the entire day as a day of rest and … spending time with fellow believers. But most of all, just to honor God and keep the day special unto him,” he says.

To avoid Amazon Sunday deliveries, Groff transferred to Holtwood, a small station with a postmaster, three full-time carriers, and three RCAs (including Groff). In March 2017, however, Holtwood began Amazon Sunday deliveries. 

The Postal Service was chronically understaffed in rural areas and Goff was scheduled to fill in. Goff failed to report on Sundays and Postal officials were forced to find a replacement. They were not always successful. His absences were difficult for the Postal Service and generated resentment among the other carriers who had to cover his shifts. Over the course of two years, Groff received eight pre-disciplinary reviews, a letter of warning and two suspensions for failing to show up to work. He resigned in 2019.

The case focuses on a federal anti-discrimination law called Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and other factors including race, sex, and national origin.

Under Title VII, employers must make allowances for a worker’s religious observance or practices unless that would cause the business “undue hardship”. This concept came into play in the 1977 Supreme Court case called Trans World Airlines v. Hardison in which it was ruled that an employer need not accommodate a worker’s desire to avoid work on the Sabbath if that would mean operating short-handed or regularly paying premium wages to replacement workers. The Supreme Court stated that employers should not have to bear more than what it called a “de minimis,” or trifling, cost. 

Groff is represented by  First Liberty Institute, a conservative Christian organization. His attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Hardison precedent, eliminating the de minimis requirement, thereby requiring companies to show a “significant difficulty or expense” before denying an accommodation.

“The whole point of religious accommodation is you have to make special or favored arrangements in order to have an inclusive workforce,” said Alan Reinach, one of Groff’s attorneys.

“They would have to pay him overtime anyway,” Hiram Sasser, First Liberty’s general counsel, said. “So there’s no extra expense.”

The Postal Service contends that accommodating Groff would have imposed an undue hardship by requiring it to operate with insufficient staff. It further claimed that substantial numbers of other employees would transfer or quit due to the increased hardship incurred by Goff’s sabbath observance. 

 Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that at Groff’s small post office of three carriers, others had to pick up the burden when he could not work.

“He was required to work Saturday, Sundays and holidays, and now he doesn’t want to work half the days he was hired to work,” Sotomayor said.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh reasoned that accommodating Groff led to undue hardship and substantial additional costs.  He also reasoned that co-workers may wish to attend religious services on Sundays, too, though their religions may not require that they refrain from work.

“You had one employee quit, one employee transfer and another employee file a grievance as a result of what Mr. Groff was receiving in terms of treatment,” Kavanaugh said.

Justice Samuel Alito reasoned that since so many religious groups have contested the de minimis stipulation since it was passed 46 years ago, it seems clear that religious rights are being infringed upon. 

“We have amicus briefs by many representatives of many minority religions: Hindus, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Seventh-day Adventists. They all say (the 1977 ruling) has violated their right to religious liberty. Are they wrong?” Alito said.

“This case continues Hardison’s disastrous legacy, stripping a devout Christian of his job for observing the Sabbath while leaving his employer unscathed, contrary to the text and purpose of the 1972 amendments to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” wrote Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and 12 others GOP lawmakers in an amicus brief supporting Groff.

Several religious organizations have filed briefs in favor of Groff, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the American Hindu Coalition, and Education Fund. These were joined by several Jewish organizations including the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the American Jewish Committee, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, and The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty. 

The court’s decision is expected to be announced before the conclusion of its term at the end of June.

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