Your Sabbath Rights

oops, not that “Sabbath”

Sunday blue laws are a thing of the past and, to most Americans,  Sunday is about football or a day of  “the rest,” meaning getting odds and ends done that don’t get accomplished the rest of the week.

But to some, it’s a day set apart for higher purposes and there’s a concept of “rest” that includes none of those things.  If you’re one of those people, then congratulations for getting off the gerbil wheel for one day out of seven.   And, if your employer ever tries to compel you to work on that day, you might get some help from an unlikely source: the government.  The Department of Justice is not just an agency for ethnic minorities, it is also – at least according to their website – a department for the Sabbath-observing minority .

Here’s a summary of one such case:

Baker v. The Home Depot: The Civil Rights Division filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing that offering an employee only the morning off to attend worship services on the Sabbath was not a reasonable accommodation under Title VII when the employee’s faith required refraining from work altogether on the Sabbath. The court of appeals agreed on April 19, 2006, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether permitting the employee to refrain from work on the Sabbath would be an undue hardship for the defendant.

Basically, it you have an authentic religious belief in the Sabbath (Lord’s Day) and you tell your employer about it, then are disciplined for failure to work on the Sabbath you have the basics of a religious discrimination case.  Your employer needs to accommodate your belief (change your schedule) unless it would work serious hardship on your employer to accommodate you.  I say all this with the standard disclaimer that this is not specific legal advice, there may be nuances of the law,  etc.  Having said that, here is a paragraph from a letter to a franchise of a nationwide company that actually worked:

Dear [     ],

I recently applied for transfer from [     ] to [     ].  My transfer was accepted by your store and upon arriving in [     ] and entering the store to speak to you, you asked me to fill out an availability sheet.  However, when I explained that I could not work on Sundays, you said you do not hire applicants unwilling to work Sundays.

Now I understand that Sundays are busy at [     ] and hence the reason behind the rule.  However, it remains a fact that my religious beliefs obligate me to refrain from work on Sundays, and that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits [     ] from practicing religious discrimination on this matter.  Please see attached document from the Department of Justice website outlining past court cases on the subject of hiring and Sabbath day observation.  Also attached are the views my church holds on Sunday observance.

I do not wish to interfere with your business practices, but the fact of the matter is that I have moved to [     ] upon the understanding that I would be able to retain my [     ] employee status in [     ], and now that I am here, I have been denied the job, based upon religious beliefs.

Please feel free to contact me about this matter on my cell phone (     ) or by written letter (see address above).

Sincerely,

Update: the following letter helped a Sabbath observer to avoid mandatory Sunday training.

Dear ________:

On ________, you told me that you would hire me as a _________ if I agree to work (undergo mandatory training) on certain Sundays. …. When I explained that I could not work on Sundays, you said Sunday training was mandatory and not negotiable.  You offered no other reason why I could not work in that position.

Please be aware that my religious beliefs obligate me to refrain from work on Sundays, and that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits ________ from making me choose between my religion and my employment.  Forcing such a choice is unlawful religious discrimination.  Please see the attached views of my church concerning Sunday observance and an excerpt from the Department of Justice website outlining past court cases on the subject of employment and Sabbath day observation. 

I do not wish to interfere with your business practices, but, in light of this fundamental right it is incumbent upon the _________ to accommodate my religious practice by doing the training on a day other than Sunday.

Please feel free to contact me about this matter on my cell phone (__________) or by written letter (see address above).

Sincerely,

__________________

The following is an excerpt from the Directory for the Public Worship of God of my church, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

2. In his Word, God has specially appointed one day in seven as a Sabbath to be kept holy to him. It is the duty of every one to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, the Sabbath was the last day of the week, marking the completion of six days of work, anticipating eternal rest in the coming Messiah. By raising Christ from the dead on the first day of the week, God sanctified that day. And from the time of the apostles, the church, accordingly, has kept the first day of the week holy as the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, and as the day on which it is to assemble for worship. Now each weekly cycle begins with the people of God resting in Christ in the worship of his name, followed by six days of work. The Lord’s Day thus both depicts that the Christian’s rest has already begun in Christ, and anticipates the eternal rest of his sons and daughters in the new heaven and the new earth.

3. God’s covenant people are to devote the entire Lord’s Day as holy to the Lord.

a. In order to sanctify the day, it is necessary for them to prepare for its approach. They should attend to their ordinary affairs beforehand, so that they may not be hindered from setting the Sabbath apart to God.

b. It is advisable for each individual and family to prepare for communion with God in his public ordinances. Therefore, they ought to do this by reading the Scriptures, by holy meditation, and by prayer, especially for God’s blessing on the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

c. They are then to observe a holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts concerning their everyday employment and recreations, and to devote themselves to delighting in the public and private exercises of communion with God and his people, in showing mercy and doing good in his name, and in works of necessity.

d. They shall so order works of necessity on that day that they do not improperly detain others from the public worship of God, nor otherwise hinder them from sanctifying the Sabbath.

4. The Lord’s Day is a day of holy convocation, the day on which the Lord calls his people to assemble for public worship.

a. Although it is fitting and proper that the members of Christ’s church assemble for worship on other occasions also, which are left to the discretion of particular sessions, the Lord calls the whole congregation of each local church to the sacred duty and high privilege of assembling for public worship each Lord’s Day. He expressly commands his people to draw near to him, not forsaking the assembling of themselves together.

b. It is highly advisable that a congregation assemble for public worship at the beginning and the ending of the Lord’s Day. God established this pattern for his Old Testament people when he commanded morning and evening sacrifice and incense burning. Moreover, he sanctifies the entire Lord’s Day to himself and gives his people in it a foretaste of their eternal enjoyment of him and his people.

 The following is from the U.S. Department of Justice:

 People should be hired or not hired because of their skills and merit, not because of their faith. And people should not be forced to choose between their faiths and their jobs.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public and private employment. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious observances and practices, unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship. The Civil Rights Division has responsibility for bringing suits under Title VII against state and local governmental employers. Under § 706 of Title VII, individual cases of discrimination against state and local governmental entities must be filed in the first instance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which can refer cases to the Civil Rights Division. The Civil Rights Division then opens a supplemental investigation, if warranted, to determine if a lawsuit is appropriate. When a pattern or practice of discrimination by a governmental entity is alleged, the Civil Rights Division may file suit on its own volition under § 707 of Title VII.
Recent Cases:
 

  • United States v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority: The Civil Rights Division filed suit against the LA MTA over its policy of refusing to accept bus driver applications unless the applicant indicated that he or she was available to work 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The suit alleged that this policy discriminated against Sabbath-observant Jews and Christians and others who refrain from work on certain days for religious reasons, by failing to make any effort to provide them with the religious accommodation Title VII requires. The Civil Rights Division reached a consent decree that requires the MTA to accept the applications of Sabbath-observant applicants; provide applicants with information about their accommodation rights; permit drivers to swap assignments with other drivers, and when no acceptable assignment is possible either through use of seniority rights or swaps, permit drivers to take temporary leaves of absence; and provide information about religious accommodation in marketing literature and in its training programs for supervisors. View the press release.
  • Baker v. The Home Depot: The Civil Rights Division filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing that offering an employee only the morning off to attend worship services on the Sabbath was not a reasonable accommodation under Title VII when the employee’s faith required refraining from work altogether on the Sabbath. The court of appeals agreed on April 19, 2006, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether permitting the employee to refrain from work on the Sabbath would be an undue hardship for the defendant.
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Filed under Free exercise of religion, Religious rights, Sabbath Day

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