Updates on major religious liberty cases: Groff at SCOTUS and Catholic Charities Bureau in Wisconsin
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a monumental religious liberty case on April 18th. Groff v. DeJoy is an important opportunity for the High Court to affirm the right of employees to honor their religious beliefs and the duty of employers to grant reasonable religious accommodations.
Christian mail carrier Gerald Groff requested the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for a religious accommodation that would excuse him from working on Sundays after they started doing Amazon package deliveries so that he could observe the Sabbath and live by his Christian faith. The fact that regular mail isn’t delivered by the USPS on Sundays was a major factor in Groff’s choosing to work there over a decade ago. USPS refused to grant him the accommodation and Groff chose to resign rather than be fired.
Groff is appealing to the Supreme Court in hopes it will overturn its erroneous 1977 precedent in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, which enabled employers to deny religious accommodations.
Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in the case asking the Supreme Court to restore Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides protection against religious discrimination.
“This Court should overrule the interpretation in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison that Title VII does not require an employer to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if doing so would impose more than a de minimis burden on the employer. Hardison’s de minimis standard—found nowhere in the Title VII’s text or legislative history—has led to absurd results, allowing employers to discriminate against religious employees with impunity, thereby forcing workers to choose between their religious beliefs and their jobs,” reads the amicus brief.
The Supreme Court justices spent much of the hearing debating the exact meanings of “undue hardship” and “de minimis.”
Groff’s attorney, Aaron Streett, recommended that the justices “construe undue hardship according to its plain text to mean significant difficulty or expense,” which would be consistent with the language in the accommodation standard of the “Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Arguing on behalf of the Biden administration, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court that Hardison adequately protects religious exercise, to which Justice Samuel Alito responded, “I’m really struck by that because we have amicus briefs here by many representatives of many minority religions, Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and they all say that is just not true, and that Hardison has violated their right to religious liberty.”
Chief Justice John Roberts spoke about changes in religious liberty case law since the Hardison ruling, arguing that religious protections had been expanded.
Thankfully, it appears that the conservative justices are poised to rule in favor of Groff and the religious liberty of every employee. The Supreme Court is expected to rule over this case by the summer.
At the state level, another religious liberty case will soon be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After the state refused to grant a Catholic charity legal recognition as a religious organization, the charity filed a lawsuit. Without legal recognition as an organization “operated primarily for religious purposes,” the charity is unable to use a Church-run unemployment system and instead must provide funds to the state-run unemployment system.
Although the Diocese of Superior operates the charity, the state refused to grant it its legal rights because it does not consider providing services to the poor, disabled, and elderly to be a primarily religious function. Catholic Charities Bureau is arguing that caring for those in need is central to the practice of the Catholic faith. WFA has filed an amicus brief in support of Catholic Charities Bureau.
Please pray that our justices make decisions informed by the Constitution and our nation’s founding principles in both of these cases. If religious liberty is to be truly honored in Wisconsin and the nation at large, the justices must rule accordingly in these cases.