The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently convened to make some of the most significant rulings on religious freedom in recent years. The court held unanimously: “Title VII requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”
The First Amendment Protects God-Given Liberties
Writing for the court, Justice Alito explained:
Petitioner Gerald Groff is an Evangelical Christian who believes for religious reasons that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest. In 2012, Groff took a mail delivery job with the United States Postal Service. Groff’s position generally did not involve Sunday work, but that changed after USPS agreed to begin facilitating Sunday deliveries for Amazon. To avoid the requirement to work Sundays on a rotating basis, Groff transferred to a rural USPS station that did not make Sunday deliveries. After Amazon deliveries began at that station as well, Groff remained unwilling to work Sundays, and USPS redistributed Groff’s Sunday deliveries to other USPS staff. Groff received “progressive discipline” for failing to work on Sundays, and he eventually resigned.
Groff sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, asserting that USPS could have accommodated his Sunday Sabbath practice “without undue hardship on the conduct of [USPS’s] business.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e(j). The District Court granted summary judgment to USPS. The Third Circuit affirmed based on this Court’s decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63, which it construed to mean “that requiring an employer ‘to bear more than a de minimis cost’ to provide a religious accommodation is an undue hardship.” 35 F. 4th 162, 174, n. 18 (quoting 432 U. S., at 84). The Third Circuit found the de minimis cost standard met here, concluding that exempting Groff from Sunday work had “imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale.” 35 F. 4th, at 175.
With this decision, the court clarified for lower courts how the 1972 Hardison decision should be applied. It might be argued that this decision effectively guts Hardison but that is for the experts to argue. It effectively prioritizes religious freedom, which is protected by the U. S. Constitution, over inconvenience to an employer. In the Groff case, the USPS might be said to have hunted him down, as it were. When he was hired, Sunday labor was not an issue. It was the USPS who decided to try to compete with UPS (and similar competitors) to make Amazon deliveries. Groff resolved his issue by moving to a rural station, but then that station changed its Sunday work practices. Groff made a good-faith effort to do his work as a mail carrier, but the USPS changed the terms of employment. Wonderfully, with this decision, the court holds that constitutionally protected liberties are not negotiable.
The court also held that religious freedom is not merely about attending religious services. They extend beyond Sundays (for Christians), Saturdays (for Jews), and Fridays (for Muslims). It upholds a more robust understanding of religious freedom.
Christians Can Practice American Citizenship
This was a good term for the first-amendment. In 303 Creative v. Elenis et al., the court upheld the principle that Americans cannot be forced to say things contrary to their conscience. This is a basic human right and a core concern for the American founders. Christians especially should appreciate this decision since it one of the demands made of us by both the ancient and modern pagans is to say certain words. In the second and third centuries AD, the pagan Romans demanded that Christians say “Caesar is Lord” (rather than “Christ is Lord” or “Jesus is Lord;” Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11) and that we renounce Jesus. They demanded that we make drink or other offerings to seal that profession. They did not demand that we actually believe what they demanded that we say, but they did demand outward conformity. So it is with the pagans of our day. They demand, in effect, that we say “Caesar is Lord” when they demand that we say that males are females or face a hefty fine from the local “civil rights” commission. They demand that we offer up our children to Moloch in public schools by forcing them to sit through whatever abominations they dream up. In 303 Creative, the state literally sought to punish a businesswoman for refusing to say words that the State of Colorado sought to compel her to say in service of clients who apparently never actually existed. This “couple” was never a couple. There was never going to be marriage, and one of the alleged partners in this ostensible marriage is not even homosexual. It was all a farce fabricated for the purpose of using the coercive power of the state to compel Christians to conform to the new pagan orthodoxy.
The 303 Creative and Groff decisions provide evidence that Christians can act to preserve their civil liberties (and those of others). Recently I argued that Christians can and should oppose the radical sexual agenda being imposed upon the country by highly-organized and well-funded groups. I contended that Christians should 1) pray; 2) organize; 3) persuade; 4) legislate, and 5) litigate (POPLL). These cases are evidence that the instruments of relief provided by the Constitution and in American law are sufficient to preserve our liberties. They are also evidence that it is expensive in funds and time to serve one’s neighbors this way. The 303 Creative case began in 2016 and the Groff case began in 2019. Our fellow citizens (and others) have been working hard to hold the State of Colorado and the USPS to the bargain we have all made with each other in the Constitution.
Fred Greco is right to exhort us, “. . .we should not despair of the rule of law in our nation. Too often, Christians act as if the United States is unalterably hostile to Christianity. Groff’s case shows us that the laws of our nation protect our freedom to live out our faith. That there was not one dissenting vote is surely significant.”
American Christians have certain civil liberties. We can and should exercise them as Paul did: graciously, wisely, and timely. He did, finally, after considerable suffering for Christ’s sake, assert his rights as a Roman citizen. So may we.
But We Will Capitalize?
One thing, however, above all, that strikes me about the Groff case is how easily most American Christians have adapted to the new Sunday regime and culture. How many Christians have done as Groff did and insisted on keeping the Sabbath? Perhaps there were other similar cases—not every case makes it to the Supreme Court, and once there the court does not always agree to hear it—but it does not seem that there has been a flood of Sabbath-related cases before the courts since Hardison.
Why is that? The principle reason is Dispensationalism. The prevalence of Dispensationalism in America has vitiated the role of the Ten Commandments in the life of millions of American Christians. The opinion held by tens of millions of American Christians, who have been influenced by Dispensationalism, is that the Ten Commandments (including the fourth commandment) are “not for today.” Thus, many rejoiced when the so-called “blue laws” (many of them to do with Sabbath regulations) were struck down, and they crowded into cafes and restaurants on the Lord’s Day after church. In 1975, I was a young pagan washing dishes and bussing tables on Sundays, picking up after antinomian evangelical Christians. If the Ten Commandments are “not for today,” what do Dispensationalists care about Sabbath observance or being made to work on Sundays?
Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) Christians, however, bear their share of blame. The Dispensationalists do not confess the Christian Sabbath. Most of them are likely quite ignorant of the historic Christian theology, piety, and practice of the Sunday Sabbath (no, Constantine did not invent the Sunday Sabbath, Jesus did; Mark 16:2). P&R folk, however, have no excuse. Our confession of God’s Word is clear. We affirm the abiding validity of the fourth commandment until Christ returns. In Heidelberg 103 we say:
What does God require in the fourth Commandment?
In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained, and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church, to learn the Word of God, to use the Holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms. In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.
When the Lord graciously brought me to new life and true faith, virtually all the evangelical churches in our town held services on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Some, including my Southern Baptist congregation (before I discovered the Reformed confession), held services on Wednesday evenings too. If a Christian were attending services twice on the Lord’s Day, it would be almost impossible for him also to work a secular job on Sunday.
Since the mid-70s, however, as the Sunday laws were removed, so apparently was the commitment to the Lord’s Day for the evangelical and Reformed. Today, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find an evening service on the Lord’s Day where there is not a Reformed Presbyterian (in North America), Orthodox Presbyterian, or United Reformed congregation.
I understand a little about the pressure to work on Sundays. When in the process of becoming Reformed I was offered a part-time job, for which I was well qualified, which asked me to work on Sundays. I accepted the position on the condition that I would not work on the Lord’s Day. Like Groff, I did my best to accommodate my fellow employees. I worked odd hours (once I worked an evening shift, slept at the station that night, and engineered the morning drive show the next day) so as to remove as much of the burden as possible. It was a radio station and they are typically on the air 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. My employer regularly probed me to see whether I was willing to work on Sundays, and I had to refuse more than once. There was always the possibility that I might lose my job. I was young and poor.
Nevertheless, principles matter. Truth matters. Religious freedom matters. In the providence of God, we Christians have been given an open door to exercise our religious liberties. The question is whether we will see this opportunity for what it is, or whether we will squander it at the beach, in the mall, or at the restaurant.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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