The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to review a case that has the potential to greatly enhance the protections available to working Shabbos observers. The case involves a Seventh-Day Adventist who was fired by Walgreens in Orlando because he would not work on Saturdays. A federal appeals court upheld the firing and the Sabbath observer then sought Supreme Court review.
One of the issues in the case is whether the Court should overrule its 1977 decision in which the majority had held that a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1972, which required an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious observance, required only “de minimis” accommodation. The appeals court had applied the “de minis’ standard.
Although the 1977 ruling has benefited countless Sabbath observers over the years, the requirement of only a limited accommodation has prevented the law from reaching its full potential.
Several months ago, a dozen Orthodox groups joined in a friend-of-the-court brief, written by noted Supreme Court litigator Nat Lewin, urging the Court to agree to review the appellate decision and to expand the accommodation requirement.
And that’s where matters stood until Tuesday when the Supreme Court took the highly unusual step of asking the solicitor general of the United States, an officer of the Department of Justice with the responsibility for representing the federal government before the Supreme Court, to “express the views of the United States” on the case.
If the solicitor general expresses a favorable opinion on the review question, there is a real possibility that the Court will add the case to its current calendar that begins in October and reconsider and modify the 1977 ruling.
The groups that joined in the Lewin brief are now planning to try to persuade the solicitor general that favoring review and modification is the right way to go. This endeavor, by the way, is perfectly permissible and appropriate for interested parties.
There is much at stake and we wish them success.