In Reconsidering a 1977 Ruling, the Supreme Court Might Greatly Expand Protections for Sabbath Observers

Over 40 years ago, Larry Hardison—a member of a church that observes the Sabbath on Saturday—lost his job at the now-defunct Trans World Airlines for refusing to work on his holy day. When Hardison challenged his firing in court, the airline argued that it should not be required to allow Harden to trade his shift with another worker, who by reason of seniority would receive greater pay. The Supreme Court at the time sided with the airline. At issue was a 1972 amendment to the Civil Rights Act, requiring employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” for an employee’s “religious observance and practice,” so long as doing so does not involve “undue hardship.” The American Jewish lawyer Nathan Lewin, who helped to argue Hardison’s case before the Supreme Court, outlines the question at hand:

The majority opinion by Justice Byron White held that TWA was not obliged “to carve out a special exception to its seniority system in order to help Hardison to meet his religious obligations.” White gratuitously went on to declare that TWA did not have to incentivize substitutes with “premium wages” because the 1972 “reasonable accommodation” amendment to the law required nothing more than the most minimal (“de-minimis”) adjustment.

This de-minimis gloss on the statutory language has, over the past four decades, buried scores of legal claims by . . . Sabbath-observers who were fired or demoted because they were unwilling to violate the tenets of their faith.

Now the Supreme Court has indicated that it might hear the case of a Seventh-Day Adventist seeking accommodation for his Sabbath observance. Lewin is optimistic that, if it does hear the case, it might overturn the Hardison ruling:

Today’s Supreme Court is more receptive to claims of religious minorities than the 1977 court. The justices who decided Hardison’s case sought to protect American society from religion; a majority of today’s court emphasizes the protection granted by the constitution for religion. Justice White formulated the de-minimis standard (which had not been proposed by any brief in the case) because the court majority in 1977 feared that requiring an employer to incur expense to accommodate religious observance would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Chief Justice Burger and Associate Justices White, Powell, Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens mistrusted religious observance. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett respect it.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at JNS

More about: American law, Freedom of Religion, Sabbath, Supreme Court

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy