Religious Accommodation

The US Supreme Court is set to rule on a case where a Christian postal worker was fired for refusing to work on Sundays.

I’m a non-believer, but generally support reasonable religious accomodations. This got me wondering about about this hypothetical. You have two employees hired on the same day to work at a business that is closed on Sundays. The business decides to be open on Sundays and asks Dan to work that day. He refuses, citing his sincere religious beliefs. They then ask Sam. He refuses, saying that his son plays basketball games that day and he promised him to go to all his game.

Dan has a possible constitutional right for accommodations and Sam doesn’t. However Sam’s reason to not want to work has a rational basis, whereas Dan’s beliefs have no rational basis.

How should we balance their respective rights?

What’s a “right”?

Sam has no socially recognized or legal “right” to time off for basketball games with his son.

“Dan” might have a right because the Constitution might say he has one. No more and no less. The SCOTUS will decide whether my “might” is really “yes” or “no”. And then we’ll all know.

In a less contentious vein, many of my co-workers are members of the military Guard or Reserves. Many other of my co-workers have part-time jobs or side businesses they actively operate when not working their main job, the one they all share with me.

By law, the military folks must be given time off without penalty to do their military side gig. They get to draw full pay, benefits, etc., even while they’re gone. The other workers with other side gigs have no such benefits. One is a “right”, the other is the total absence of the same “right”.

As a practical matter, “rights” are whatever the legislature & SCOTUS say they are. Ideally guided by the Constitution, not just by crass political calculation.

It’s unfair to characterize Dan’s position as having no rational basis. If it’s important to him to go to church with his family, why is that less rational than Sam wanting to go to his son’s basketball games?

If Dan asserts that he WANTS to go to church with his family, and church services are only held on Sunday, then yes his desire is equally rational. However if he says his beliefs mean he MUST go to church on Sunday, then I think it starts to be something else.

You may be right about that, and I was second-guessing my answer after I posted it.

But still, Dan’s “something else” could easily be in addition to, rather than instead of, the kind of “rational reason” that Sam has.

An interesting point brought up when I was reading @Guapo’s response was the whole ‘Must’ thing. There has been a huge variation on religious freedom needing or NOT needing to be based on sincere belief.

COVID taught us that all of a sudden, people with no previous history of strong participation in faith-services were religiously bound from complying with vaccine mandates. Some percentage were probably acting in good faith, others, not so much. And the law tried to thread the needle, IMHO not very successfully.

But the law has been equally unsuccessful in differentiating between religion, cults, and ‘prank’ faiths like Pastafarianism, with the normal rule that Christianity of most flavors is always a religion (HUGE generality I fully acknowledge), other ‘mainstream’ religions are normally okay, and a few others get grudging acceptance (various Church of Satanism), but anything past that (FSM) gets no such protection.

And there isn’t a good mechanism to evaluate strength of belief. I think, in the long run (and assuming we don’t topple over into overt or implicit Christian theocracy as many of our elected leaders desire), they’re going to have to find a compromise that pleases no one (which is where we’re at, so just redrawing the lines), or it’s going to be all in. Whatever you say you believe is protected, which will be minor chaos.

I strongly suspect we will still be in the compromise stage, but with Christianity staying or becoming stronger as the ‘first among equals’ by a huge margin in terms of deference due to the current composition of the court. :frowning:

As I take it rights have to be given the widest accommodation regardless of if you consider it rational or not. That’s the thing about rights, you don’t get to decide on if that person should be allowed. So his accommodations have to go to at least the highest level, if not become it. So if you gave the time off for the bball game, you would have to also accommodate church. If you did not however accommodate the bball game, you would have to make reasonable accommodations which may or may not mean the day off.

And how to you know that Sam has a rational basis for his request, he may be one of those irrational sports nuts who push their kid into things that are harmful to them.

My understanding is that the right to religious accommodations is vested by federal statute (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act… see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j) and § 2000e-2(a)), not the federal constitution. Maybe there’s an equivalent right in the state constitution… not Florida’s, to my knowledge.


Previous thread on this case

I realize that It’s a bit of a hijack, and if a moderator wants me to take it elsewhere, I will, but I never understood the Christian need not to work on Sundays. I read the gospels and Acts, most of the Pauline epistles, and read summaries of the other stuff.

I also read some works of the early church fathers.

So while I understand that Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and maybe very observant Episcopalians may have Holy Days of Obligation on which they must attend a service, they are permitted to work after the obligation is fulfulled.

And none of that applies to most Protestants, and American fundamentalists, nor any other Sola Sciptura types.

The Torah is what states that work is not permitted to Jews on Shabbat and Holy days that are Shabbat-like, such as Yom Kippur. The Mishneh and Talmud spell out exactly what activities constitute work, and they include things such as writing, transporting, creating a vessel, and completing anything.

So by what authority are Christians not permitted to work for 24 hours on Sunday? If the work location opens on Sunday at noon, and your services are concluded by 10am, why can’t you work?

The Catholics (not all Christians) codified their beliefs into canon law, one of which states,

CIC 1247

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Exodus is commonly interpreted as requiring a full day of no work each week, though different denominations disagree on which day that is, and whether the requirement applies to Christians as well as Jews,

Exodus 20:8-11
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.


Thank you, Max. That’s exactly what I was looking for.

I realize that while no one is required under law to prove the foundation of their religious beliefs, you do see things all the time that show either a brilliant resolution of cognitive dissonance, or just flat-out ignorance.

Dan and Sam’s rights aren’t in conflict, so there’s no need to balance them against each other (as opposed to the employer’s right to set work schedules). In fact it could very well be that Sam has no relevant right, unless one is provided by a collective bargaining agreement or other workplace policy.


I love the detailed response, Max, but I have Exodus 20:8-11 committed to memory-- in Hebrew.

I have trouble with the idea of moving the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday.

The Torah is extremely specific that it is the LAST day of the week that is holy. Moreover, there is wordplay whereby both the word for “seven” as in “seventh day,” and the word for “rest” are related. It’s hard to explain.

It’s sort of like if the scripture of a religion said “eat an orange at sunup, as it’s orange like the morning sun,” but some remote area with a different language, and no “orange = both fruit & color,” adopted the faith. It happened that in this place, oranges were hard to get, and lacking an appreciation for the wordplay, people didn’t see it as important, so just randomly substituted the most common local fruit, which was a fig, or banana, or something.

They both have the same basis. Both don’t want to work because there’s an event scheduled for that day that they plan to attend with their families.

Hmm-- before I get accused of hijacking, I will say this is the last I’m posting on this digression. I understand that the Roman Catholics are a special case among Christians, not being Sola Scriptura, and that is relevant, I think.

Anything else, if mods want to cobble another thread, that’s fine, but I’m happy to drop the subject.

IIRC first day sabbatarianism goes way back to the early church, something to do with Isaiah and Sunday being the day of Jesus’s ressurection. But this is the limit of my knowledge on this matter. Also, in hispanic countries (heavy Catholic influence) the week starts on Monday.


The nature of one event is mentioned in the constitution, and the other is not.

They can hire me to work there. I love working Sundays, and Easter and Christmas, especially since one place I worked for several years paid double time for it, and all that other stuff.

Although Sola scriptura translates as “by faith alone” different denominations define it differently. Most denominations reject any infallible authority other than scripture but accept that there are other guides as to what to believe and how to live (such as tradition and conscience ) but these other guides are subordinate to scripture while some teach that scripture is the only rule of faith and there are no other sources. This last position is sometimes called nuda scriptura (possibly only by those who accept tradition etc, as subordinate to scripture)

“Sola scriptura” means “Scripture [in this case, the Bible] alone.”