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A most basic accommodation

Americans shouldn’t have to choose between keeping the Sabbath and keeping their jobs


Former postal worker Gerald Groff stands near a mail van in Holtwood, Pa., on March 8. Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster

A most basic accommodation
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The 1981 blockbuster film Chariots of Fire tells the story of Eric Liddell. The Scotsman, Christian missionary, and Olympian ​believed that God required him to observe a Sunday Sabbath. But ​in a cruel twist of fate, ​he ​f​i​nd​s​ himself schedule​d​ for his 100-meter run in the 1924 Paris Olympics on a Sunday.

In the movie, the Prince of Wales tells Liddell, “There are times when we are asked to make sacrifices in the name of … loyalty ​[to country]​. … As I see it, for you, this is such a time.”

​​“Sir,” responds Liddell, “God knows I love my country. But I can't make that sacrifice.”​​​ ​​

​​​We should never ask persons like Liddell to sacrifice their faith. In a free society, we should not pressure compliance, but we should provide accommodation​​​ for religious convictions​​​​​​​​​.

Despite the ​recognition ​​​​​of ​religious ​freedom ​in​ recent Supreme Court​ decisions​, impediments remain for our nation’s religious employees. Now, in Groff v. DeJoy, the justices have the opportunity to restore religious liberty to the workplace. Oral arguments happen today.

Gerald Groff sought a career in the U.S. Postal Service. For him, it was the ideal job. His roots in rural Lancaster County, Pa.—like Liddell’s in Scotland—taught him to honor the Lord’s Day. Since the Postal Service did not deliver on Sundays, it seemed the perfect career. Then, his employer started delivering packages for Amazon on Sundays.

If he were a full-time carrier, he would not have to work Sundays at all. To get to that point, though, would require that he work just a handful of Sundays. Groff believes he is to rest from work on the Lord’s Day, a day God directed in the Fourth Commandment to honor by keeping it holy.

While Groff could not deliver packages on the Lord’s Day, he could—and did—help those who could. He worked every Saturday, every holiday, every overtime shift he could so others could take ​off​. Most Americans are happy to step in and help others out when they need it.

Forcing Groff to choose between his career and his faith is a decision Congress intended to ​avoid​.

Sadly, the Postal Service was not so helpful. By constantly refusing to accommodate Groff’s religious beliefs, forcing him​ instead​ to undergo multiple rounds of discipline, the Postal Service tried to make an example out of him. Stripped of seniority and out of options, it was quit or be fired.

Many Americans have no problem working on Sundays. But, to force Groff to work on the Lord’s Day would force him to violate his conscience. Surely, a nation dedicated to liberty can protect those ​at large employers like the Post Office ​​when their ​conscience requires them to stay home on their Sabbath.

Forcing Groff to choose between his career and his faith is a decision Congress intended to ​avoid​. Indeed, Congress meant Title VII ​of the Civil Rights Act ​to protect ​Sabbath observance​. But the way the courts have interpreted Title VII since the Supreme Court’s 197​7​ ruling​ in​ TWA v. Hardison has put those ​of various ​religious tradition​s​ at a profound disadvantage.

Courts ​now​ interpret Title VII’s protections so restrictively that employers need not grant even the most ​basic​ accommodations to religious observers. As Justice Thurgood Marshall lamented, ​“The ultimate tragedy” of the ​TWA v.​ ​Hardison’s ​decision is​ that “despite Congress’ best efforts, one of the Nation’s pillars of strength—our hospitality to religious diversity—has been seriously eroded.”

Groff’s case provides the justices with the opportunity to restore the critical protections of federal law for religious employees. If it does so, the court would end ​nearly ​five decades of compelling, as Justice Marshall said, “adherents of minority religions to make the cruel choice of surrendering their religion or their job.”

Restoring our nation’s longstanding commitment ​to ​protecting its citizens from being ​forced out of their jobs ​because of their faith ​will continue to ​motivate everyone from the boardroom to the mailroom to find solution​s​ that ​Click here to enter text.​respect religious diversity​ and ​work for business as a whole. An America that ​respects everyone ​should not put religious adherents to the cruel choice of surrendering their religion or their job.

Someone accommodated Eric Liddell​ by​ switch​ing ​races ​with him. ​​A​nd ​that accommodation allowed Liddell to bring home the​ gold for the United Kingdom. Gerald Groff may never earn a medal, but we all win when we find ways to make accommodations for each other.


Randall Wenger

Randall Wenger is chief counsel of the Independence Law Center, a pro-bono law center in Pennsylvania dedicated to maintaining those liberties that have made America great and free.


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