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Explainer: Supreme Court hears arguments in religious postal worker case

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April 18, 2023

On April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Groff v. Dejoy, a case dealing with religious accommodations in the workplace. This case, which centers around a Christian postal worker who wishes to observe the Sabbath, puts before the court a question of what burden employers must meet before denying religious accommodations to their employees.

This case has significant implications for the religious liberty of Southern Baptists and people of all faiths. The ERLC filed an amicus brief in the case urging the court to raise the burden currently placed on employers to allow for greater religious accommodations in the workplace. A decision in this case is expected in June.

The quick background

Gerald Groff began working as a United States Postal Service (USPS) carrier in 2012, and as a Christian, is compelled by his religious beliefs to observe the Sunday Sabbath. After USPS began delivering packages on Sunday for Amazon, Groff offered to take extra shifts on weekdays and holidays to avoid working on his Sabbath. USPS initially granted him an accommodation but then changed its mind and began scheduling Groff for Sunday work. Groff refused to violate his faith, and faced termination until he ultimately resigned in 2019. 

Why does this case matter?

Southern Baptists believe that we cannot separate our vocation from our deeply held beliefs. Our whole lives, including our work, is done as service to the Lord. Employers must be required to do more in accommodating the needs of religious employees to allow them to continue serving in their vocation without compromising their beliefs. Religious liberty protects not only our freedom to believe but also our freedom to live out those beliefs in the public square.

As Southern Baptists, we also believe that religious liberty applies to all people of all faiths. Religious accommodations are especially vital for members of minority religious. During today’s arguments, Justice Alito noted the unity from all religious groups in their amicus briefs arguing that the current status quo is not working in protecting religious liberty. Any Howe, a Supreme Court analyst, summarizes this argument made by several amicus briefs filed by various minority religions:

Members of minority religions . . . are more likely to require accommodations in the workplace – for example, because businesses and the government may not be closed to observe religious holidays in the same way that they do for Sundays or Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. But at the same time . . . religious minorities are also less likely to receive those accommodations, because employers can meet the “de minimis” standard so easily. As a result, the groups say, the current interpretation of the “undue hardship” provision requires many religious minorities to choose between their faith and their jobs.

The harmful Hardison decision

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires that employers “reasonably” accommodate their employees’ religious observance unless doing so would cause “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. However, a 1977 Supreme Court decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison limited and distorted the requirements of employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices by allowing employers to prove only a minimal burden to deny accommodations

This harmful decision in Hardison was, in part, built on the Lemon test, a three-part test from a 1971 ruling that determined when a law was in violation of the Establishment Clause. This test often disfavored religious liberty and was overturned last year in the Coach Kennedy case.

Groff’s case before the Supreme Court has the opportunity to revisit Hardison in light of new court precedent. Overturning the “more-than-de-minimis-cost” test in Hardison would be a major victory for religious employees nationwide and restore important protections for people of faith in the workplace. 

It is important to note that no one is asking the court to establish a standard where religious employees can use their faith to evade work responsibilities whenever convenient. Whatever test that is established by the court will have to be contextualized and will still take into account the needs of the business. Groff, and our brief in support of him, advocates for simply raising the bar for what employers must do in trying to accommodate the needs of their religious employees.

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC filed an amicus brief alongside other religious organizations arguing that Hardison should be overturned and that employers must meet a higher burden before denying accommodations to their employees. As our brief argues:

Correctly interpreted, Title VII’s mandate to accommodate employees’ religion affirms this Nation’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom. That mandate embodies a careful balance between the right of workers to practice their religion without sacrificing their jobs and the ability of employers to maintain an effective workplace. Hardison destroyed that balance by creating a legal standard at war with the statutory text and so undemanding in practice that employers nearly always win . . . A right that exists only when it bothers no one else is no right at all.

The ERLC will continue to follow and cover future developments in this case. And, as we have been assigned by Southern Baptists, we will always protect religious liberty before Congress, the courts, and in the public square. 

Hannah Daniel

Hannah Daniel serves as the ERLC’s policy manager, representing the policy interests of Southern Baptists to government through advocacy and education. Originally from Tennessee, she graduated from Union University with a degree in Economics in 2020. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is a member and small group … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24