At issue is whether employers can require employees to accept work requirements that conflict with their religion's dogma.
Here we go again.
The endless campaign by devout Christians to get special treatment in American commerce and the public square continues unabated, despite, over decades, multiple court cases unequivocally rejecting most of these serial entreaties.
But it’s a new day in the judiciary, notably at the top of the hierarchy: the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
The conservative super-majority Supreme Court
The Court, in its new conservative super-majority iteration, has started handing down decisions that pointedly privilege religion—Christianity, mostly—at the expense of our republic’s founding secular ethos.
In its latest lurch down that murky path, the Court agreed in January to consider a legal appeal by Lancaster, PA, substitute postman Gerald Groff, who contends the U.S. Post Postal Service (USPS) discriminated against him by making him work on Sundays, as he contends his evangelical Christian faith prohibits.
Groff worked for the Postal Service from 2012-2019, when he resigned and sued USPS.
According to an NBC News report, Groff contends in his appeal that the Postal Service “could have granted his request that he be spared Sunday shifts based on his religious belief that it is a day of worship and rest.” But supposedly didn’t.
Which is not quite correct, according to NBC.
Initially [Groff] was not asked work on Sundays, but the situation began to change in 2015 due to the requirement that Amazon packages be delivered on that day. Based on his request for an accommodation, his managers arranged for other postal workers to deliver packages on Sundays until July 2018. After that, Groff faced disciplinary actions if he did not report to work.
How is “reasonable accommodation” defined?
A federal judge then ruled that USPS had “provided a reasonable accommodation” to Groff and that “offering anything more than that would cause undue hardship to the employer and his co-workers.”
The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower-court’s determination in a May 2022 ruling.
Gross, in his appeal, is asking SCOTUS to re-evaluate what “undue hardship” means under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguing that the court’s 1977 decision in Trans World Airlines v Hardison was “not sufficiently favorable to employees and allows religious needs to be supplanted by the interests of employers.” Earlier, the Court had ruled that employers were not required to accommodate worker’s religious requests even in the case of a minimal burden on operations, NBC News reported.
But that was then.
READ: Judge Tells Kentucky Clerk She Must Issue Gay Marriage Licenses Despite Her Faith-Based Objections
In a separate article, NBC News explained:
In recent years, a more conservative Supreme Court has been inclined to view government actions it once considered to be neutral and necessary to maintain separation of church and state as hostile to religious expression.
Why a coach leading prayers on the 50-yard line is a problem
The current conservative-majority Court has declined to hear several cases questioning the 1977 decision but has also ruled in support of religious claims in others. In one of the most prominent recent rulings, justices voted 6-3 to uphold the right of Joseph Kennedy, a Washington state public high school football coach, to lead Christian prayers on the 50-yard line after games, even though players said they felt compelled to join in. The school suspended Kennedy for ignoring its mandate that he stop performative praying and declined to renew his contract when it expired.
The Bremerton School District fired Kennedy after he was told to stop leading prayers on the playing field after games but continued anyway.
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch argued:
Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.
However, this ignores every student’s right not to be coerced to pray publicly by peer pressure flowing downward from the actions of an adult superior.
Coach leading prayer “constitutionally impermissiable”
In a dissenting opinion, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan wrote that the Court “consistently has recognized that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible,” and that the Kennedy ruling did a “disservice” to schools, students, and to “the nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.”
Sotomayer added in the dissent:
Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection. In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.
Relentless evangelical cultural incursions continue
The relentless onslaught by American evangelical Christians to broadly embed and normalize the tenets and practices of their faith in the tax-funded public square is slowly succeeding—from extra-curricular “bible literacy” classes held at public schools, to school “In God We Trust” signs often mandated in various states, to the National Prayer Breakfast, to special religious exemptions for Christian employees, and to prayers on the 50-yard line.
We’ve been here many times before, but encroachments never end.
Only this time, the Supreme Court is faith’s staunch ally against, as former Attorney General Bill Barr characterized it, “creeping secularism.”
Well, if anything is “creeping” surreptitiously and purposefully into the public square, its hard-core Christianity, not unbelief.