FFRF: SCOTUS’ new USPS case signals more religious privileging

shutterstock 135889718

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is disheartened that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear yet another case involving a Christian plaintiff seeking to broaden religious exemptions in the workplace.

Late last week, the high court granted review in a case, Groff v. DeJoy, involving a disgruntled religious postal worker, in which it will reconsider the longstanding doctrine concerning accommodation for religious practices and what constitutes undue hardship for employers.

First Liberty Institute, a radical Christian nationalist legal outfit in Texas, has reached the Supreme Court with another case that has the potential to upend decades of settled law regarding religious freedoms, this time in the workplace. Oral arguments are likely to be held in April, with a decision expected in June.

The plaintiff is Gerald Groff, a former postal worker who accepted a position to work on an as-needed basis, necessarily tending to involve weekends, who requested not to work on Sundays because it was his sabbath. The U.S. Postal Service had accommodated Groff’s request by scheduling co-workers to work Groff’s shifts on Sundays, but the much smaller station he chose to then transfer to could no longer accommodate him.

Groff lost twice, before both the Eastern District Court in Pennsylvania and the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that the USPS didn’t have to accommodate Groff because doing so placed an undue hardship on USPS — in part because of the burden placed on other employees.

The case hinges on the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in employment. It requires employers to accommodate religious practices of employees as long as doing so does not result in “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Four decades ago, in the Trans World Airlines v. Hardison case, the Supreme Court defined “undue hardship” as anything that would require more than a trivial or minimal cost. By taking this case, the high court appears poised to once again overrule decades of precedent to benefit religious plaintiffs.

Title VII can prevent religious employment discrimination without imposing burdens on other employees. For example, by allowing someone to wear a hijab, no burden is placed on other employees. By accommodating private prayer practices that do not require other employees to adjust work schedules or cover for praying co-workers, no burden is placed on other employees. A religious accommodation should not inevitably impose a burden on other employees — or on any third parties.

“If First Liberty gets its way, Title VII will no longer be a statutory tool to prohibit religious employment discrimination. It will become a statutory weapon to impose religious beliefs on others or privilege religious employees over others,” points out FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religious freedom protections have never before required employers or the government to burden others.”

Accepting cases that threaten to overturn decades of established precedent has seemingly become the norm at the Supreme Court, which continues to broaden religious exemptions to favor religious conservatives, effectively weaponizing religious liberty. If the court rules in favor of Groff and First Liberty, as expected, this will mean an employee’s religious beliefs will take precedence over the rights of employers, co-workers and even customers.

“By granting review in this case, the Supreme Court has signaled once again that it will use this opportunity to overrule longstanding precedent to broaden exemptions for religious persons, even if doing so will harm others,” warns FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert. “The implications of the decision of this case will be litigated for years to come.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, established nationally in 1978, is a state/church watchdog working to keep religion out of government, as the U.S. Constitution requires, and also serves as the nation’s largest membership association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), with more than 39,000 current members.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend