Ruben Sanchez: Religion Clause recently informed us of a court ruling that states that the United Postal Service (USPS) does not need to accommodate a Seventh Day Adventist employee’s request to have every Saturday off. The 8th Circuit held that if Saturday leave were granted, such a demand, made under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, would impose an undue hardship on the company, violate its collective bargaining agreement, or challenge its seniority system. Finally, since USPS is an independent government agency and not a branch of the Federal Government, the court stated that Title VII does not apply to this case, since it is “the exclusive remedy for a federal employee’s claim of employment discrimination.”
According to the resolution, the now-former USPS worker requested in 2006 a “religious accommodation to have every Saturday off because working at any time between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday conflicted with his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist.” In 2007, he was offered a part-time leave on Saturdays to be able to attend church, a proposition he rejected.
Leaving aside any legal or moral precedent regarding who is right or wrong, this case is an opportunity to think about sacredness. We usually think of sacred objects, texts and places such as temples. These are things we can possess, trade, inhabit and, most of all, build rituals around. We decide when to deal with them and therefore, we can accommodate them to our daily busy schedule according to our needs and priorities. In these ways, time is subject to whatever is sacred.
Adventists and Jews, at least, have another dimension of sacredness, however. It is time. Time is that thing we cannot possess but measure, we cannot trade but organize, we cannot inhabit but which we just live in. And, last but not least, the rituals we build around time only make sense when the time says it is the right time.
Saturday, or Sabbath, is a sacred space in time for such believers. Which is why it would not make sense to an Adventist or a Jew employed by any company to be given just the time to go to the church and/or synagogue and come back to work. It is not the place nor the act of worshipping only that are sacred. It is not a ritual of doing–going to a place to adore–that is sacred because doing is possible every day. Accordingly it is not a person’s decision when to make a ritual. It is a ritual deciding when to make a person.
For the Adventist USPS employee in this case, his demand was nothing more than a request to remember every week that, before being a worker, he was and remains a person. Therefore, by not accommodating his request, USPS did not fire a worker but discriminate against a person.
In other words and according to this case, federal law gives us the freedom to pick any religion so long as it does not mess with our boss’ business.