The U.S. Supreme Court may be faced with the opportunity to protect workers’ rights not to work on the Sabbath. After discussing the appeal of Patterson v. Walgreens on March 1, the justices will soon decide whether or not they will hear arguments in the case.
Although former Walgreens employee Darrel Patterson is not Jewish, several religious organizations — including eight Orthodox Jewish groups — have filed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs on Patterson’s behalf. They argue that Patterson’s dismissal by Walgreens amounted to nothing less than an unconstitutional assault on his religious freedom. (Walgreens maintains that, in keeping with earlier Supreme Court precedent, granting Patterson’s wish to not be scheduled for shifts on the Sabbath would have posed an undue burden on the pharmacy chain.)
Among those helping Patterson is Washington, D.C., attorney Nathan Lewin.
Lewin has worked on several Supreme Court cases involving religious freedom, such as addressing religious displays on public property, giving Jewish prisoners access to kosher foods, and ensuring that religious Jews could keep their beards while serving in the army.
Forty-two years ago Lewin filed an amicus brief in a similar case, involving a man who refused to work on a Saturday due to his religious beliefs and was fired. The issue then, he said in a Tablet article, was that “the language of the law … did not specify what was required if employment discrimination was based not on an employee’s religious identity or faith, but on conduct prescribed by an employee’s religious observance.”
Since then, Lewin has participated in several other similar cases.
“[The] time has come for the Supreme Court to make a decision in favor of religious liberty and I am hoping they will do that,” Lewin said in an interview. “Probably thousands of people observe the Sabbath. Lots of Jews have sought employment and have been prejudiced against by the fact they are shomer Shabbat.”
Others who keep the Sabbath on days other than Sundays, like Muslims whose Sabbath is from Thursday to Friday, face similar discrimination, Lewin said.
“They don’t believe that religious people should have any kind of advantage,” he said of Patterson’s former employer. “There is a veil around religion [that it’s] a crazy ideology that [people] have and [they shouldn’t] impose it on anyone else.”
He explained that since many people aren’t religious, they may see another person’s observance as a matter of choice. Some companies think hiring a person who cannot work on certain days places an undue hardship on to the company and, therefore, exempts the employer from accommodating a
person’s religious practice.
“[People say] go find a job where people don’t want you to be there on Saturdays. That’s not an uncommon view,” said Lewin. “If you’re religious, that’s your consequence. You’ve made a choice; that’s personal.”
Lewin hopes that the Supreme Court considers such discrimination illegal.
“Resounding vindication of Darrell Patterson would correct a decades-long injustice, granting religious Americans the protection they so richly deserve,” he said in his article.