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The Seventh Day at the Supreme Court?

Posted on March 04, 2019
The Seventh Day at the Supreme Court?

All Larry Hardison wanted to do was work—and also worship his God.

A longtime mechanic for Trans-World Airlines, Hardison was the member of a small Sabbathkeeping denomination. He’d joined as an adult, which meant he’d spent part of his TWA career working on Saturdays. Now, with a convert’s zeal, he requested an adjustment in his work schedule to accommodate his beliefs.

In the mid-1970s, such accommodations were less likely than in present-day America. Employers, and even labor unions, often thought first of their needs and priorities. In Hardison’s case, a change in work assignments placed him low on the union’s priority list, and he couldn’t get the days off he required. Hardison was fired from his job—the airline said the union controlled day-off scheduling—and the unemployed mechanic sued.

Although federal law at the time ostensibly supported Sabbathkeepers—specifically a 1972 measure sponsored by Sen. Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, himself a Seventh-day Baptist—Supreme Court Associate Justice Byron White feared the costs to employers might exceed a “minimal,” or “de minimis” in Latin, expense. The majority ruled against Hardison.

Free Exercise Restored?

However, within the next few weeks, the Supreme Court may take the opportunity to change its mind. As reported here last October, the case of Darrell Patterson, a Walgreens call-center employee in the firm’s Orlando, Florida, call center, is being considered by the high court. If the justices in a conference that could be held as early as March 15 say the case deserves to be heard before the Supreme Court, such a hearing could create the chance for reversal.

Court observers said the tiniest hint such a review might be possible with the Patterson case came on January 22, when the court refused to hear the case of Joseph Kennedy, a former high school football coach in Bremerton, Washington. Kennedy’s habit of kneeling at the end of games and allowing—not soliciting—players to join him in prayer had ruffled some feathers, and he sued claiming a free speech violation.

In denying the request for a hearing, Associate Justice Samuel Alito hinted that had Kennedy sued on the basis of employer interference with his free exercise of religion, his appeal might have been heard. The question of free speech rights for religious public speech came up in a 1990 case, Alito noted: "In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990), the Court drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause.”

Observers suggest that the Court’s statement denying Kennedy a hearing hints at where the it could go with the Patterson case. Attorney Michael Peabody wrote at his blog, “It is debatable whether a claim by a public school football coach that he is compelled by religious belief to pray at the 50-yard line following each game is the best vehicle for addressing either Smith or Hardison. However, it does appear that the justices who signed onto Alito's response have concerns about the chilling effect of Hardison and Smith on the ability to even raise Title VII religious accommodation and Free Exercise Clause claims.”

While all of this might sound like so much legal hairsplitting, this may truly be an instance where, to borrow from famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “God is in the detail.” Literally so, in fact. Because Patterson is seeking relief on free exercise grounds, and because the Hardison case might have gone too far in its strictures, justices such as Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh appear ready to give the matter a rethink. If Chief Justice John Roberts, for example, or even associate justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, side with the Sabbathkeeper, it could be game over for the Hardison restraints.

God Said "Remember"

Like Hardison four decades ago, all Darrell Patterson wants to do is perform his job, free from the fear of losing it because Patterson also wishes to serve the God he loves. It might prove slightly inconvenient for large firms such as Walgreens, which employs “over 240,000 people” nationwide. But just as paying workers fairly, establishing safe and humane working conditions, and not discriminating on the basis of race, gender, or religion are common practices of the best firms, it’s just as possible that accommodating the religious needs of all employees could be a plus for companies committed to doing well in their communities.

If you’re wondering why the Bible Sabbath—which is what many call the seventh day of the week—is of such great importance that someone such as Darrell Patterson or Larry Hardison would go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States for help, we’ve got some answers that will aid your understanding. Why God Said Remember is a FREE online book packed with details you may not have discovered yet. Its message can change your life—and for the better!

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