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Court Ruling on Religious Observance of Employes is Hailed by Colpa

November 3, 1976
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A Supreme Court ruling today affirming the application of a federal law requiring employers to make “reasonable accommodation” to the religious observances of employes was hailed by the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs as one of the “most significant steps forward” in the protection of the rights of Jews and other religious minorities.

The four-to-four split of the Supreme Court had the effect of sustaining the similarly-split ruling of a federal Court of Appeals, according to Sidney Kwestel, president of COLPA, which filed a brief with the Supreme Court on the issue on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The legislation involved a 1972 amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act which required such accommodation unless it would create an “undue hardship” on the employer. The COLPA brief was prepared by Nathan Lewin, a COLPA vice-president.

Kwestel said the principal application of the federal law had been to bar employers from refusing to hire or to dismiss workers who were Orthodox Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists and members of the World Wide Church of God. which forbid labor during their Sabbaths. The employer was forbidden to take such action against Sabbath observers even if the employer conducted business during that period and regularly required other employes to work.


The Supreme Court ruling came in the case of Cummins Parker Seal Co. involving a member of the World Wide Church of God. Cummins was fired because he refused to work on Saturdays, a regular work day at the company. He sued in federal court.

The federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected the firm’s contention that the law requiring such an accommodation violated the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion on grounds that it was forced to take some action against its will to enable Cummins to practice his religion.

The Appeals Court held that protecting a person’s right to religious observance did not “establish religion.” The lower court also held that Parker Seal had not demonstrated “undue hard-ship” because it had only shown that other employes objected to working on Saturdays while Cummins did not. The lower court held this did not constitute “undue hardship,” Kwestel noted.

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