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Judge Rules Against Sabbath-keeper—What’s Next?

Posted on January 21, 2020
Judge Rules Against Sabbath-keeper—What’s Next?

It’s happened again: A federal district court judge has ruled against someone who wanted to work for a major company but also maintain faithfulness to the Bible Sabbath.

On January 16, Judge Barbara Brandriff Crabb, senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, said retail giant Walmart did all it had to do when Edward C. Hedican, a Seventh-day Adventist, applied for a salaried position as an assistant manager. After being given the position, Hedican said that he couldn’t work from sunset on Fridays to sunset on Saturdays but was willing to work any other day and shift to compensate. Walmart, in turn, said Hedican could instead apply for an hourly job where he could have Sabbaths off.

According to the Law360 website, in her order, Judge Crabb reasoned, “Numerous courts have concluded that an offer to help an employee find another position that does not require Sabbath work is a reasonable accommodation, even if the other position pays less or is less desirable.”

Furthermore, she expounds upon Title VII, the anti-discrimination law being called into question, declaring, “Title VII also does not require employers to accommodate an employee’s religious practices in a way that ‘spares the employee any cost whatsoever.’” To support this, she cited a case involving two Sabbath-keepers who worked for a Kellogg food processing plant in Clearfield, Utah. However, what is also of note is that in 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sent that same case back to the lower court to be heard again.

A Familiar Judicial Name

Judge Crabb’s name is a familiar one to those involved in religious liberty issues. Appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, she has twice sided with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group in Madison, Wisconsin, that supports and propagates atheistic beliefs. Her first ruling was against a “National Day of Prayer” declared by the Obama administration; it was subsequently reversed on appeal. Also reversed were her 2013 and 2017 rulings on the tax-exemption status of clergy housing allowances; she opposed the exemption, but a higher court ruled against her.

So while Judge Crabb’s views on the application of religious liberty are relatively well-known, the issues on which she is ruling remain contentious and unsettled, particularly the question of Sabbath accommodation.

Of significance is the case of clerk Larry Hardison, who, in 1972, lost against Trans World Airlines at the Supreme Court. The precedent established in that case has stood for nearly fifty years: Employers can’t be made to suffer “undue hardship” in order to accommodate a Sabbath-keeping employee. This is the very same argument Judge Crabb used in the Wisconsin Walmart case.

It’s also the argument at issue in the case of Darrell Patterson, a customer service trainer for Walgreens’ pharmacy who lost his job when he was called to work on a Saturday. Despite a supervisor’s offer to cover for Patterson—which was countermanded by another supervisor—Patterson was penalized for following his conscience.

The Definition of “Undue Hardship”

But what exactly constitutes “undue hardship” for the employer? This term is at the crux of all these Sabbath-keeping cases. While Title VII left its definition open for interpretation, over the years, case after case has proved that the term needs specifying. The Hardison case ruled that even a hardship of “de minimus” (minimal or trivial) amount upon the employer was reason enough to terminate the employee. But now, due to the Patterson case, that standard ruling could be revised.

Patterson is currently awaiting a decision on whether or not the Supreme Court will hear his case, based on a brief recently filed by the Solicitor General. If accepted, there’s a possibility that the Supreme Court could reverse the Hardison decision and require employers to do more to accommodate Sabbath-keeping workers.

Interestingly, the brief cites the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the case of Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman who wanted to work for retail clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch. In that case, the company refused to hire Elauf because she wore a hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf. The filing specifically noted the justices’ reasoning in favor of Elauf, that “‘Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices,’ but rather ‘gives them favored treatment.’”

If “favored treatment” applies to religious clothing, would it also apply to religious days?

While Americans wait upon the judiciary, it’s a good idea to recall what’s involved in keeping the Sabbath and why it’s important in the first place. “Why God Said Remember” is a free book that answers many of those questions.

Reading our article on “The Sabbath in Prophecy” will give you insight into why there is so much confusion surrounding the Sabbath day and why its observance will be a central issue at the end of time.

And if you’re wondering about whether Christians should even keep the seventh-day Sabbath, check out this enlightening exchange between Pastor Doug Batchelor and Pastor Steve Gregg. It’s an honest debate that may help settle the issue for you.

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