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Court Ruling Marks Victory for Sabbath Observing Jews

March 16, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A federal appeals court in Chicago, in a 2-1 decision, has upheld the constitutionality of a provision of the U.S. Civil Rights Act which has protected the rights of Sabbath observing Jews, according to the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA).

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the provision of the Act, which requires employers and labor unions to make “reasonable accomodation” to the religious needs of employees unless an” undue hardship” would result, violates the “establishment of religion clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Howard Zuckerman, COLPA’s president, hailed the decision as a “reaffirmation of an individual’s right to avoid having to chose between religious principle and gainful employment.” COLPA, joined by the Agudath Israel of America, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, had filed a brief in support of the constitutionality of the provision.


The case involved Darrel Nottelson, a Seventh Day Adventist, who was fired from the A.O. Smith Corporation in Wisconsin for refusing to join the labor union at the company because his religion prohibits him from joining or financially supporting labor unions. Labor agreements at the Wisconsin company required all employees to join the union, the Smith Steel Workers, AFL-CIO, and to pay dues.

Nottelson filed suit in a federal district court in Milwaukee and his position was upheld. The A.O. Smith Corp. and the union filed an appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which again ruled in favor of Nottelson.

The appeals court said that by accomodating the needs of religious minorities, the law “does not confer a benefit on those accomodated, but rather relieves those individuals of a specific burden that others do not suffer by permitting them to fulfill their societal obligations in a different manner, as in this case, by substituting a charitable contribution for union dues.” Nottelson had offered to make a contribution to a non-religious charity equivalent to what his union dues would have been.

Zuckerman noted that while the payment of union dues does not pose a problem for Jews, the constitutionality of the protection for Sabbath observers who require adjustment of hours on the job is of great importance to observant Jews.

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