May 2023 Church & State Magazine - May 2023

Workplace Religious Accommodation Must Not Burden Others, AU Says


Americans United has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a fact-based framework under federal law for determining whether an employee’s request for religious accommodations at work creates excessive burdens on coworkers and customers.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on March 30 in a case called Groff v. DeJoy, AU said the high court should affirm that the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals properly considered the burdens and hardships the request imposed on the U.S. Postal Service and its workers. 

The case against the U.S. Postal Service was brought by Gerald Groff, a part-time letter carrier hired specifically to work flexible hours and cover weekend and holiday shifts at a four-person post office in Pennsylvania. 

Over 14 months, Groff refused to show up for 24 Sunday shifts due to his religious beliefs. This led other employees — nearly all church-going Christians — to resign, transfer, file grievances or cover for him while, as he admitted, he watched NASCAR stock-car races on television after church on Sundays.

Groff’s legal team includes First Liberty Institute and the Independence Law Center, Christian Nationalist organizations that are part of a billion-dollar shadow network behind nationwide litigation that seeks to undermine church-state separation.

Beyond accommodation: Christian Nationalist group seeks to instill religious privilege in workplaces (Getty Images)

“Our civil rights laws rightly require religious accommodations for workers, which is especially important for religious minorities whose rights and customs might not be respected in the workplace,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “But religious freedom does not mean we can shift the burden of practicing our faith onto other people. Religious freedom has never been a license to harm others, in employment or any other facet of life.

“This case is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Laser warned. “Christian Nationalist legal groups are litigating cases like this as part of their crusade to secure privilege for those who share their narrow religious beliefs — at the cost of everyone else’s religious freedom. Once upon a time, the Supreme Court prioritized religious-freedom cases aimed at protecting the rights of religious minorities who are marginalized in a predominantly Christian society. But the Christian Nationalist groups litigating this case are hoping to use it to extend the recent pattern of the current court granting special favor to the majority religion at the expense of all others.”

She concluded, “We need a national recommitment to the separation of church and state if we’re to uphold this country’s promise of freedom and equality for all of us.”

The brief was joined by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. It was authored by attorneys Joshua A. Matz, Carmen Iguina Gonzalez, James Santel, Selena Kitchens and Disha Verma of the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP; AU attorneys Bradley Girard, litigation counsel, and Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director; and Lambda Legal attorneys Karen L. Loewy, senior counsel and director of constitutional law practice, and Gregory R. Nevins, senior counsel and Employment Fairness Project director.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now