Racial Equality

Will The Supreme Court Expand Christian Privilege In The Workplace?

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case yesterday that may seem arcane but that could dramatically extend religious privileges in the workplace – in ways that could harm other employees.

That it was brought by First Liberty Institute – a powerful member of the billion-dollar shadow network of Christian Nationalists seeking to undermine church-state separation and force all of us to live by their narrow beliefs – tells you a lot about the ulterior motives behind the case.

First Liberty represents a part-time, rural mail carrier who was hired to work flexible hours and cover weekend and holiday shifts at a 4-employee post office in Pennsylvania. After the Postal Service started delivering packages for Amazon, those shifts included Sundays. The mail carrier didn’t want to work Sundays, citing his evangelical Christian religious beliefs. Over the course of 14 months, he refused to show up for 24 Sunday shifts. This led other employees – all church-going Christians – to resign, transfer, file grievances or cover for him while he watched NASCAR after church on Sundays. He quit and then sued the Postal Service for discrimination, with First Liberty claiming that USPS didn’t do enough to accommodate him.

Religion On The Job

Religious accommodations in the workplace can be thorny, but this case isn’t. When an employee is asking to wear a certain type of religious attire, such as headgear, or pray during breaks, no one would likely have ground to object. Those actions don’t harm anyone else or place burdens on coworkers. But the postal carrier’s refusal to show up for work did affect others. If the Supreme Court sides with him and First Liberty, there’s no telling how far religious demands in workplaces will go.

AU President and CEO Rachel Laser has called this case “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” She’s right. It has the potential to give Christian Nationalist groups a new and powerful weapon to misuse religious freedom as a license for discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, people seeking reproductive health care, religious minorities and others.

AU Takes A Stance

Americans United is speaking out. You can read a legal brief we filed in the case, which argues for a more balanced, reasonable approach to workplace accommodations, an approach that respects the rights and needs of all workers and doesn’t elevate religious privilege.

AU’s Laser has been extensively quoted about this case, including in The New York TimesUSA TodayThe Washington Post and ABC News, among others.

Keep your eye on this case. An adverse ruling could further erode real religious freedom.


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