Courts rule religious workers can’t shun job on sabbath Saturday

Courts rule religious workers can’t shun job on sabbath Saturday February 26, 2020

There’s good news for secular Americans from the conservative, religiously affiliated justices of U.S. Supreme Court.

supreme court religious rights business employees
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Esgar A. Castro plays soccer with students at Bethel Seventh-day Adventist School in Punta Gorda, Belize, during Southern Partnership Station, 2014. (U.S. Department of Defense, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

On Monday, the court declined to review an appeal by a former Florida employee of Walgreens, the pharmacy chain, who complained that he was fired for asking not to work on Saturdays for religious reasons.

Plaintiff Darrell Patterson is a member of Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose doctrines forbid work on their sabbath — from Friday evening to Saturday evening (for most Christians, the sabbath is Sunday).

By declining to review a lower court ruling against Patterson, a former trainer of Walgreens customer service representatives, the Supreme Court in effect endorsed the appellate court’s decision, allowing it to stand in Walgreen’s favor.

At issue was whether Patterson’s demand to always be given the Adventist sabbath off work for religious reasons posed “undue hardship” on his employer. The appellate court ruled that it did pose such a hardship, and the high court’s refusal to hear the case endorsed that decision.

Yahoo! Finance new site online explained that the case tested the parameters of religious accommodation for employers and employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the statue prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The act requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” workers’ religious practices unless it would create “undue hardship” for the company.

The administration of President Donald Trump, asked for its views by the Supreme Court in December, suggested that the court consider only whether lower courts used “an improper standard” to judge hardship — one the administration believed was “too favorable to companies,” Yahoo! Finance reported.

In deciding in this case that such a religious demand by an employee was excessive, the court appeared to place the primacy of reason and common sense above the demands of faith. That is good news. Imagine if employers nationwide knew they could demand days off for religious reasons; it would produce chaos and discriminate against nonreligious people (who would still be required to go to work)

Walgreens argued, ultimately successfully, that it was required under the law to “reasonably” not “totally” accommodate employees’ religious needs, although lower courts had mixed feelings.

It is important to remind ourselves what these kinds of religious-rights cases are really about. They’re about privileging religion over a different religion or nonreligion. In this case, employees who had to report to work would be discriminated against if a religious person got to stay home. In, say, the Hobby Lobby case, where the company didn’t want to provide employees with legal contraceptives, this discriminated against people who didn’t share the employer’s religious views because they could not easily purchase available contraceptives.

It’s also important to remind ourselves that the reason certain religious-rights laws privilege believers is not because it make practical sense in the real world but because of belief in superstitions.

And the reason we have special religious-rights laws in the United States is not because it is rational we should accommodate people who believe their fantasies are real, but because religious diversity can be existentially dangerous. The bloody, ruthless European religious wars in the Middle Ages taught us that — as many colonial immigrants to America came to our shores fleeing the trauma of those endless conflicts.

But the problem today is not religion per se, but religion trying to force itself into the tax-funded public life of the nation.

If it stayed where it belonged, we wouldn’t have these problems.

But the Founding Fathers made the fated decision to try and accommodate these often fiery impulses of religious belief for the common good of all Americans.

Unfortunately, zealous Christians are far more interested in their common good.

Nice to see the Supreme Court, despite its religiously faithful crew (five devout Catholics, three Jews and one denominationally undeclared Protestant, Neil Gorsuch), deciding a faith-based case with common rather than divine sense.

Image/Wikimedia/Public Domain

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