Supreme Court Hands Unanimous First Amendment Win to Christian Postal Worker

On the same day as the Supreme Court’s historic affirmative action decision, the high court also made a unanimous ruling on a major case involving freedom of religion in government service.

As reported by Fox News, the case involved U.S. Postal Service employee Gerald Groff, a Christian man in Pennsylvania who was ordered to continue working on Sundays, even though he considers Sunday to be the day of rest as per Biblical tradition. When he refused to work, he was ultimately forced to resign.

In its unanimous 9-0 ruling, the court determined this to be a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of religion. In the process, the court overturned a precedent set in 1977, in the case Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which declared that employers could deny such religious accommodations if they determined that such a decision would result in a “more than a de minimis cost” on the employer.

Groff’s attorney Aaron Streett successfully argued for the elimination of the “de minimis” requirement, saying that the high court should instead consider approaching the question from the perspective of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires employers to make religious accommodations for their employees, unless this would somehow lead to an “undue hardship” for the employer.

“The government believes undue hardship arises whenever there is lost efficiency, weekly payment of premium wages, or denial of a coworker’s shift preference,” said Streett during the oral arguments. “Thus, under the government’s test, a diabetic employee could receive snack breaks under the ADA but not prayer breaks under Title VII, for that might cause lost efficiency.”

In his opinion, Justice Samuel Alito agreed with Streett’s assertions that the prior “de minimis” standard had resulted in lower courts abusing the precedent to rule against religious objections, and that the new “undue hardship” standard would be fairer to those making First Amendment complaints against employers.

“To be sure, as the Solicitor General notes, some lower courts have understood that the protection for religious adherents is greater than ‘more than … de minimus‘ might suggest when read in isolation,” said Justice Alito. “But a bevy of diverse religious organizations has told this Court that the de minimus test has blessed the denial of even minor accommodation in many cases, making it harder for members of minority faiths to enter the job market.”

The Postal Service issued a statement affirming that it would obey the court’s ruling: “We agree with the Supreme Court’s clarification, which accepts the arguments we made before the Court, and which is fully consistent with the standard we apply when seeking to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs, observances, and practices of our employees.”

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.

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