SCOTUS Hands Religious Freedom A Huge Win
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a unanimous ruling in favor of a postal worker from Pennsylvania whose religious beliefs have put him at odds with his employer's scheduling demands.
Gerald Groff, a Christian mail carrier from Pennsylvania, had asked the court to decide whether the U.S. Postal Service could require him to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays, which he observes as the Sabbath. His attorney, Aaron Streett, had argued that the court should overturn a fifty-year-old legal precedent in order to better protect individuals' religious liberty in the workplace.
Today, the high court quashed that precedent by ruling that employers do not have to “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious beliefs and practices if it creates an “undue hardship” on the business. This tighter “undue hardship” standard could make it easier for some individual employees to secure a religious accommodation when their faith requires them to adhere to different working schedules.
The dispute arose out of a 2013 contract between USPS and Amazon to deliver packages on weekends. Groff, who worked as a fill-in mail carrier, was then asked to take Sunday shifts for weekend deliveries, a demand that violated his religious beliefs. However, despite initially being able to arrange accommodation with his supervisors, Groff was ultimately unable to secure an arrangement to take off Sundays and was faced with the threat of termination.
This led Groff to resign from his job and seek the help of the conservative First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, and the Independence Law Center. He then filed a federal lawsuit against USPS, claiming that they should have done more to accommodate his religious beliefs.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals initially dismissed Groff’s case, holding that reasonably accommodating him was an undue hardship. But the Supreme Court overturned that judgment and decided otherwise. In a written statement, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that it would be wrong for lower courts to deny religious accommodations based on a single phrase in a precedent from 1977.
"We hold that showing ‘more than a de minimus cost,’ as that phrase is used in common parlance, does not suffice to establish ‘undue hardship’ under Title VII,” Alito said.
Groff was elated following the court’s ruling. “I am delighted that the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to providing equal opportunity and fair treatment in the workplace,” he wrote in an op-ed for Fox News Digital. “More than that, the Justices affirmed my decision to trust God by honoring the Lord’s Day. I am grateful to all those who have expressed their support—especially my family, community, co-workers, and neighbors."
Today’s decision is an important victory for religious liberty - and for workers of faith - who no longer have to worry about their beliefs preventing them from finding work. It also highlights the importance of individuals standing up and fighting for their rights, regardless of how intimidated they may feel when going up against large corporations.
For Groff, today’s decision is the perfect outcome of a year-long battle. And it has reaffirmed that religious liberty is a right that must be taken seriously.