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U.S. Court Upholds Right of Sabbath Observer

A US Court of Appeals ruling that an employe may not be fired solely because he refuses to work on his Sabbath was hailed today as “a reaffirmation of the right of all Americans to avoid having to choose between their religion and their job.” The statement welcoming the unanimous decision of the Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit was released today by Howard Rhine, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA).

COLPA had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case which arose from the firing of a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church by the Bendix Corp. for refusing to work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, his Sabbath. At Issue was the validity of guidelines issued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations to the religious needs of employes and prospective employes where such accommodations may be made without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” In this case, Bendix argued that the EEOC, which administers the equal employment provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, had exceeded its authority by requiring employers to permit deviations from regular employment practices.

COLPA, which had assisted in drafting the EEOC guidelines noted that the Civil Rights Act was amended in March 1972 to include the requirement to accommodate but the case in question was begun prior to the enactment of the amendment. What the Appeals Court ruling did in effect was to confirm that the amendment represented the intent of Congress when the Civil Rights Act was passed and thus had retroactive bearing on the Bendix case.

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