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Supreme Court’s Historic Decision in Religious Freedom Case

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The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a postal worker requesting religious accommodation to not deliver packages on Sundays, which he observes as the Sabbath.

The Court rejected a previous 1977 standard that mandated employers must “reasonably accommodate” religious practices unless it poses an “undue hardship.”

The worker’s lawyer argued the standard has been wrongly used to deny accommodations and the Court should define “undue burden” the same as in disability laws.

“The government believes undue hardship arises whenever there is lost efficiency, weekly payment of premium wages, or denial of a coworker’s shift preference,” lawyer Aaron Streett said. “Thus, under the government’s test, a diabetic employee could receive snack breaks under the ADA but not prayer breaks under Title VII, for that might cause lost efficiency.”

While the government said the precedent did not need changing, unions argued accommodations could negatively impact co-workers.

“A day off is not the special privilege of the religious. Days off, especially on the weekend, are when parents can spend the day with children who are otherwise in school when people can spend time on the other necessities of life, and when the community enjoys a common day of rest for churchgoers and the nonreligious alike,” the American Postal Workers Union stated.

“By allowing employers to refuse to accommodate employees’ beliefs for almost any reason, Hardison forces devout employees to make an impossible daily choice between religious duty and livelihood,” the Muslim Public Affairs Council said.

“This may be one of those religious liberty cases where the right and the left are actually aligned,” law professor James Phillips said.

The Court was asked to require employers show a “significant difficulty or expense” before denying accommodations.

Experts said the Court, including both conservatives and liberals, could side with the worker in clarifying religious accommodation standards in the workplace.

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