Again, Justice William O. Douglas Said it Best

I raised the issue in my first post quoting Justice William O. Douglas on religious freedom regarding the questionable actions of states which pay Seventh Day Adventists unemployment for refusing to work on Saturday, but do not offer the same opportunities to those who hold Sunday as their sabbath.

Until I had to deal with North Dakota’s Job Service, and their zeal to pay Seventh Day Adventists for refusing to work on Saturdays, I was totally unaware of this practice. No one I have talked to in North Dakota was aware that the state of North Dakota was singling out Seventh Day Adventists for special treatment.

As I researched the topic, I discovered several other states which do the same. The issue at hand is whether most individuals are even aware that this practice on the part of state unemployment offices.

There was no case law on this issue in North Dakota, but there is now. I posted the North Dakota Southeast Judicial District court decision on Scribd.  For more information about this decision, please see the Petitioner’s brief and the Defendent’s brief.

The referee for the appeal put great emphasis on the genuineness of the employee’s belief.  No one questions the genuineness of the employee’s religious belief. But the genuineness of the belief is irrelevant.

No employer should be held responsible for the religious beliefs of some of their employees, but not all of them, genuine or otherwise.

Employees who have strong reservations against working on their sabbath, whether it’s Saturday or Sunday, have a right to resign. But the state has no business holding an employee responsible for the genuineness of their religious feelings when they resign, and then award the resigning employee unemployment benefits for their beliefs.

In this case, this employee resigned and went to work elsewhere the following week, but was still allowed to receive unemployment benefits.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Justice Douglas clearly cut to the seminal issue in these state decisions to award unemployment to Seventh Day Adventists. At the risk of boring readers with repetition, let me post his perspective again:

This case is resolvable not in terms of what an individual can demand of government, but solely in terms of what government may not do to an individual in violation of his religious scruples. The fact that government cannot exact from me a surrender of one iota of my religious scruples does not, of course, mean that I can demand of government a sum of money, the better to exercise them. For the Free Exercise Clause is written in terms of what the government cannot do to the individual, not in terms of what the individual can exact from the government.

It would be most helpful if state legislators in North Dakota and those states practicing this kind of discrimination reviewed their current Job Service practices, perhaps even considering the perspective of Justice William O. Douglas.




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