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Religious Liberty Prevails in the Supreme Court

Religious Liberty Prevails in the Supreme Court

In the days of colonial America and even after the United States was established, Sunday closing laws, also known as Blue Laws, dominated the religious and political landscape. Not only were businesses forced to close on the so-called “Lord’s Day,” people faced severe penalties for violating such laws.

For instance, a 1610 statute in the colony of Virginia reads like this: “Every man and woman shall repair in the morning to the divine service and sermons preached upon the Sabbath day, and in the afternoon to divine service, and catechising, upon pain for the first fault to lose their provision and the allowance for the whole week following; for the second, to lose the said allowance and also be whipt; and for the third to suffer death.”

Death for not going to church?

Of course, that was then, and this is now. Today, it’s hard for Americans, after centuries of religious freedom, notably under the philosophy of “the separation of church and state,” to imagine going to jail, much less facing death, for not going to church on Sunday or any other day. 

Indeed, not only have Sunday Blue Laws gone the way of the rotary phone, but regularly keeping Sunday holy is all but dead even among Christians—that is, unless going to church for a few hours on Sunday morning, followed by lunch at Cracker Barrel, shopping at the mall, and then catching an afternoon NFL game, is considered keeping Sunday holy.

Sunday Mail Service

Perhaps that’s why the recently decided U.S. Supreme Court Case Groff v. Dejoy (2023) is so eye-opening—it’s not simply because the ruling as unmistakably upheld the principle of religious liberty, but because it shows that Sunday-keeping is not only alive and well in America, but it’s also in need of legal protection for the relatively small number of those who still take it so seriously as a day of worship.

There’s an incredible irony in this story too: The law once forced people to go to church on Sunday; today, people sometimes need the law to enable them to go to church on Sunday!

What happened? The basic facts of Groff v. Dejoy are simple enough—in reality, of course, these cases are never simple. Gerald Groff started at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) at the Quarryville Post Office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2012. In his entry-level position, he had no set work schedule, but that didn’t cause him concern because Sunday is the one day of the week that mail doesn’t get delivered.

Enter, however,, which hired his post office to deliver packages for them, including on Sundays. Suddenly, Groff found himself in a dilemma that, in various ways, other religious people have found themselves in: a religious conviction clashes with work obligations, putting jobs in jeopardy if a “reasonable accommodation”—one that does not “unduly burden” the employer—cannot be reached.

Groff is one of those rare evangelicals who takes Sunday-keeping seriously. Based on the Fourth Commandment, which forbids work on the seventh day of the week, Groff believes that it means Sunday, the first day, so he refuses to work on that day. Attempts were made to shift his hours, and he even moved to another post office that didn’t deliver on Sunday—until it also contracted with for Sunday delivery. Forced to choose between an obligation to his work and what he believes is an obligation to his God, Groff chose the latter. He resigned, and his case was taken up by legal organizations, including First Liberty, that seek to protect religious freedom.

The result? After years of navigating the courts, Groff v. Dejoy landed in the lap of the U.S. Supreme Court—which ruled 9 to 0 in Groff’s favor.

It’s Unanimous 

It’s amazing that with such a polarized court and culture, this decision was unanimous. On the other hand, considering that it would have hardly placed an “undue burden” on the USPS to accommodate one employee who wanted one day off a week for religious observance, it’s easy to see why the highest court ruled as it did.

Said First Liberty, “the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans,” about the ruling: “Today, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a victory to former postal carrier Gerald Groff against the United States Postal Service, after Groff lost his job for observing the Sunday Sabbath. The decision strengthens legal protections for employees seeking religious accommodations, such as schedule changes to observe holy days. The far-reaching decision affects employment rights at every workplace with at least 15 employees in every state in the country.”

The Sunday Sabbath?

However important the win is for all Americans, there is one point that should be addressed. Though Groff believes that he is obeying the Fourth Commandment, he really isn’t. Nothing in the Bible, not even in the New Testament, nullifies the seventh-day Sabbath and replaces it with Sunday.

For instance, Jesus’ encounters with the religious leaders over the seventh-day Sabbath (Matthew 12:1–12; Mark 3:1–6; Luke 6:1–9; John 5:1–14) reveal that the issue was never about whether the day should still be kept or changed to Sunday; it was always over how it should be kept, which would be odd if Jesus knew that it was soon to be nullified in favor of Sunday.

Instead, Jesus was freeing the day from a host of manmade regulations that turned it into a burden rather than a delight: “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words … ” (Isaiah 58:13). 

Of course, the courts do not and should not judge a religious liberty case based on whether the theology is correct. Can you imagine judges determining religious orthodoxy? However, the decision in this case was correct, even if Groff’s theology was not. To find out more about Blue Laws, read “What Are Blue Laws?” 

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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