In 2019, Gerald Groff quit his job, then sued his employer for causing him “much anxiety and distress” by expecting him to show up for work and, after various attempts to accommodate his absenteeism (more than 24 missed shifts in two years), disciplining him when he didn’t.
If he’d sued because working on Sundays interfered with his enjoyment of a particular brunch buffet, or his ability to keep up with the pro football season, we’d likely have never heard his name.
But his grounds for action were that a personal friend of his — an invisible friend whose very existence is hotly debated, but whose supposed opinions he values very much — doesn’t want him to work on Sundays, so his case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court.
On June 29, that court ruled that employers must provide “religious accommodations” to employees unless doing so “would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”
The costs, substantial or otherwise, increased or not, aren’t really the problem.
The problem is the treatment of such “accommodations” as an entitlement or right at all.
While it’s a stretch to say that we live in a free society these days, we do live in a society where we at least still enjoy the freedom to choose our employers. We can refuse any job we don’t want to do. We can quit any job we don’t like.
Employers should be similarly free to hire people who are willing to do a job, and to fire people who decide that they’re no longer going to do that job — even if those people claim that their very special invisible friends don’t want them to.
The First Amendment forbids Congress to make any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There was never any question that Gerald Groff was free to exercise his religion as he chose.
Yes, he had to choose between his religious beliefs and any number of jobs that weren’t consistent with those beliefs. If he’d been a Muslim or a Jew, for example, he might have avoided jobs that involved cooking pork (or, as with his version of Christianity, working on certain days of the week). As a Hindu, jobs relating to the slaughter or preparation of beef would have been a poor fit. And so on, and so forth.
But we all have to make such choices, don’t we?
Unlike Groff, most of us don’t go to court to get our religions unconstitutionally established in law as trump cards that employers must “accommodate.”
But maybe we should, since according to the Supreme Court, Gerald Groff’s sense of entitlement supersedes the First Amendment.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.