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

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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 Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy