Supreme Court to Hear Religious Freedom Employment Case
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear Groff v. DeJoy, a case involving a former postal carrier who lost his job after the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) refused to grant him a religious accommodation to observe the Christian Sabbath on Sunday. Gerald Groff, the Christian postal worker, lost in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and then in the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. First Liberty Institute, which represents Groff, appealed to the Supreme Court in August, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
“It’s a really good sign that the Supreme Court has taken this case,” said First Liberty senior counsel Stephanie Taub on “Washington Watch.” “The Supreme Court only takes one to two percent of cases.” The Supreme Court is more likely to address an issue with a circuit split, and the 3rd Circuit noted there was such “an unresolved circuit split involving Title VII religious accommodation.”
Taub also expressed optimism about the upcoming Supreme Court review because “several of the justices in recent years [have written] opinions saying maybe it’s time” to revisit religious freedom in employment. The current justices “haven’t been shy about overturning or about revisiting, reconsidering cases that have had disastrous effects throughout the country,” she said. The 2022 victory for Coach Kennedy and his private, 50-yard-line prayer is just one recent example.
In Groff v. DeJoy, First Liberty is asking the court to reconsider another bad precedent. “There is a case from the 1970s [Trans World Airlines v. Hardison] that really gutted the employment protections for religious employers [and] for religious employees,” explained Taub. “This case is asking for the court to provide meaningful religious accommodations to people of faith. And it’ll impact people who work at so many corporations … not just government employers, but private employers as well across the country.”
Religious freedom has “got to be respected in the workplace,” exclaimed “Washington Watch” guest host Jody Hice, Family Research Council’s senior adviser to the president. “The First Amendment is not written just for churches, or nonprofit organizations, or that type of thing. It’s written for individuals. It’s written for everyday people.”
And that’s why “this case has the potential to protect religious freedom in the workplace for countless workers across the country,” Taub said. “This is the chance to return the law to how it’s written,” for the Supreme Court to “return us to a standard that is pro-employee.”
The most important possible outcome would be if the Supreme Court required employers to take religious accommodation requests seriously, said Taub. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen so many requests for religious accommodations, and employers have not always taken their requirements with the level of seriousness that they should.” Observers point to the lack of accommodations granted to U.S. military servicemembers who have requested a religious exemption from the COVID vaccine.
After years in the legal pipeline — Groff resigned from USPS in 2019 — this religious freedom case is hurtling towards a climax. “We’re expecting oral arguments … around April,” explained Taub, “and then we’ll expect a decision probably around June before the Court takes off on summer recess.” The future of religious freedom employment law could be settled this summer.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.