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A Supreme “No” on a Sabbath Case

Posted on March 03, 2020
A Supreme “No” on a Sabbath Case

Darrell Patterson, the former Walgreens customer service trainer who was fighting for Sabbath accommodation in the workplace, will not have his lawsuit heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, a decision announced on February 24. A lower court decision, Patterson v. Walgreen Co., will stand for now in a ruling against the employee.

Patterson had worked for Walgreens in Orlando, Florida, for six years. But on August 19, 2011, a Friday, he was instructed to conduct an emergency training session the following day, the Sabbath. It turned out that a management error, a violation of law, in fact, had forced the shutdown of a call center in Alabama, and company officials had then transferred that work to the Orlando facility.

Previously, Patterson had consistently been able to find someone else to cover his responsibilities when a Sabbath conflict arose. In turn, Patterson would cover the other worker’s non-Sabbath shift. But this time, that had not been possible. When Patterson didn’t show up for work on Sabbath, he was suspended and then later fired—even though he conducted the training on the following Monday, ahead of a court-imposed deadline.


“It Goes to the Very Core”

As an African American who had grown up in a pre-civil rights era, Patterson stated, “In a sense attacking my faith and my ability to worship and putting my family’s livelihood at stake was a deeper attack than any that I’ve ever experienced. It was deeper than my race or color, it goes to the very core, my very soul of who I am.”

Becket, the public-service law firm that helped represent Patterson, added that the crux of the issue was religious freedom, the concept upon which the United States was built: “Because of a mistake made by Walgreens executives, Mr. Patterson was forced to choose between providing for his family and practicing a central tenet of his faith—a decision no American should have to make.”

Journalist Nicole Russell, writing for the Washington Examiner, agreed: “Patterson’s track record shows he did not utilize his Sabbath observance as a way to get out of work or make excuses. And no hard-working employee should have to choose between keeping his job and abiding by a religion he has practiced faithfully for years.”


Incremental Progress for Sabbathkeepers

The outcome of the Patterson case allows the 1977 Supreme Court Sabbathkeeping decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison to stand. That ruling concluded that employers were not guilty of religious discrimination if they offered a “de minimis” or minimal accommodation for those who observe the Bible Sabbath.

But there is a silver lining. Though it declined to review Patterson’s case, the Supreme Court, in concurrence with the Solicitor General, issued its support for one of the arguments in that case, namely the opposition to the Hardison ruling. States Justice Samuel Alito, “I reiterate that review of the Hardison issue should be undertaken when a petition in an appropriate case comes before us.”

This means that while Patterson did not get his day in court, someone else may. “While it is disappointing that the court did not take Patterson, the fact is that his case moved the cause of religious liberty in the workplace forward immeasurably,” says attorney Todd McFarland, who represented Patterson on behalf of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “Before Patterson’s case, religious employees were not only stuck with the Hardison decision, there was no movement to get the Supreme Court to reconsider Hardison.” McFarland states, “Patterson’s case, despite it not being granted, is the most significant development in workplace religious accommodation in a generation.”


Taking a Stand for the Sabbath

There are those who think of the Sabbath as an arbitrary day, an old law that was “nailed to the cross.” But the Sabbath is as vital to our identity today as when it was first established. The seventh day is the day that God “rested” after making our world. Regarding it, God instructs, “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:16, 17).

The Sabbath is the intrinsic connection between the Creator and us—His creation. Its covenant is one that seriously needs to be revisited, for it is as fundamental to humanity as the tenet of religious liberty is to every American.

One day, at the end of the age, everyone will be forced to take a stand: either for the mark of the beast, the power that will be ruling the world at the time, or the seal of God. Those who do not side with the beast do so at the risk of terrible persecution. So what is this mark of the beast and its opposite, God’s seal? Does the Sabbath, this “sign” of God, have anything to do with it?

Find out in our free article, “The Sabbath in Prophecy,” and our free online Bible study, “The Mark of the Beast.” Get a full explanation of what the Bible says is soon to happen—and how our religious freedom will come under attack. At that time, a Supreme Court decision will matter little, but the verdict in the courts of heaven will mean everything! As Jesus assures us, the one “who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Are you ready?


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