Recently USA Today ran an article about a former postal worker named Gerald Groff who, during the last two years working at the United States Postal Service (USPS), was worried that his refusal to work on Sundays would result in his termination. Groff, an Evangelical Christian, had chosen to work for the USPS specifically because he knew they didn’t work on Sundays. However, in 2013 the USPS signed a contract with Amazon to handle weekend deliveries, although Groff was initially exempt from Sundays so long as he picked up other shifts. But this exemption caused a lot of resentment with his coworkers, it conflicted with the collectively bargained seniority scale in place, and there were times when he was simply not able to find someone to fill his Sunday shift. Not showing up for those shifts led to disciplinary measures being taken against him, and eventually he felt compelled to resign in 2019.
With he help of the First Liberty Institute Groff brought a lawsuit against the USPS for putting him in the position of having to choose between his job and his faith. This case, Groff v. DeJoy, made it all the way to the Supreme Court and on Tuesday April 18th the Court heard opposing arguments. Groff’s lawyer Aaron Streett argued that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers for their religious beliefs or practices. Streett is also pushing the Court to reverse or clarify a 1977 SCOTUS ruling which allows employers get around (or at least set limits) on those accommodations if they cause “undue hardship” for the business, which is defined as “anything having more than a ‘de minimis’ or trivial cost” to the business.
Representing the USPS was Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar who said that defining or changing what constitutes an “undue burden” is up to Congress, not the Supreme Court. Moreover, Prelogar made the case that Groff’s requests for being exempt on Sundays did in fact cause a lot of tangible hardships for his coworkers “who had to stay on their shifts longer to get the mail delivered."
While it will be interesting to see how the court will rule, there was one statement concerning this case that I found noteworthy in regards to Groff’s position. Rachel Laser, the president of a grievance group called Americans for the Separation of Church and State noted that "letting people shift the cost of exercising their religion onto their co-workers in a way that harms their co-workers is the opposite of equality." She added that this case is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and opened “a huge can of worms” in terms of the effect it will have on similar cases in the future. While she is not wrong in her assessment of your average work environment, there is an acerbic undertone in her take on Groff’s position. One is in which a win for Groff would set a negative precedent of allowing greater religious accommodations in the work place, rather than less (a position more to her liking).
A Perennial Struggle Made Worse by Our World
There has never been a time when Christians have not been “strangers in a foreign country” and at odds with the world. Our Lord warned us in the gospels that we would be hated and shunned, and we have been struggling to be “in the world but not of the world” ever since. We are a people who are supposed to know and obey the commandments of our Lord first, and only then “be subject to the governing authorities” which have “been instituted by God.” In the case of Groff v. DeJoy the controversy currently under review by the SCOTUS is what rights can reasonably be expected by Christians in modern-day America when it comes to obeying the Third Commandment, i.e. not working on Sundays. In our current political and cultural climate, there seems to be three factors that have a bearing on this case.
The first is the sad fact that we are currently living in a nation whose “governing authorities” have long since cut loose from their Natural Law moorings found in our founding documents. Thus, not only has the First Amendment been continuously weakened in recent history, but its intent has almost been transposed into a charter for an unofficial state religion. No, not a ridiculously contrived feminist fable like The Handmaid’s Tale, but a de facto cult of state worship where the machinations of the capital city elites are seen as the final arbiter of right and wrong or law and order. An ersatz pragmatic faith that makes allowances for personal devotion, but has no room for any faith that lays claim to any authority higher than the State. Moreover, as our economy weakens, our borders lie open, our cities quake with urban unrest, and Americans continue to die of drugs and despair, the federal government will increase its demands for allegiance to this state religion.
The second factor affecting the outcome of Groff’s case is the rampant consumerism that bombards us at every waking moment and accompanies us (via our cellphones) wherever we go. However, in addition to selling us products and services that cater to our most petty desires or PSA’s for the latest “thing” that only a little bit of your money can fix, but it is also used to surreptitiously reiterate the state’s own version of the First Commandment through endless political messianic messaging. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput points out in his book Strangers in a Strange Land, in these two factors politics and consumerism are conjoined into a single solitary force where “technology and democracy go hand in hand” and
“The state gradually takes on the elements of a market model that requires the growth of government as a service provider. The short-term needs and wants of the voters begin to displace long-term purpose and planning.”
In short, we now live in a world where our vices and vainglories are now the main driving force behind our culture and public policy. In such a world, there is little room for a day set aside for God.
Which leads to the third (and most important!) factor that will affect the Groff case, and that is (as always) Christians themselves. Archbishop Chaput commented on this when he noted the failure of his generation (Boomer) to pass on the faith in any meaningful sense,
“The reason the Christian faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young people is that- too often-it didn’t really matter to us. Not enough to shape our lives. Not enough for us to suffer for it.”
And while he admits that there are still some Christians that may still feel like they are “foreigners in their own country” the real problem in America isn’t “that we believers are ‘foreigners.’ No, the real problem is that "our children and grandchildren are not,” as Christians and unbelievers alike get along just fine in terms of living, complaining about work and waiting for the weekend when they can spend their time and treasure on their own selfish amusement. A world where people like Gerald Groff are seen as the troublemaker.
We have forgotten (or never learned) our Lord’s words about figuring out what should and shouldn’t be rendered “unto Caesar”, serving “God and Mammon”, and who or what is supposed to be in control of our lives and for what purpose. In the same way that Christ upbraided the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was meant for man, not man for the Sabbath,” too many Christians are unaware that our jobs, the economy, and all the economic stats the state and companies use to keep things running, are meant to serve us; not the other way around.
This is precisely why the Third Commandment runs counter to our prevailing cultural and political norms. It signifies that our lives mean more and belong to something greater than the mundane realities of the world- something that is unacceptable if you covet the attention and allegiance of those same people. Also, it certainly shows how far our culture has drifted from its Christian heritage when taking one day off for religious purposes is seen as a bad thing. Apparently the notion that the commandment is also meant as a protection for ourselves, is not even considered. As St. Thomas Aquinas notes in his commentary on the Ten Commandments, in addition to a day of rest to to give glory to God, we also keep the commandment as an act of kindness for ourselves and those who work for us, “for some are so cruel to themselves and others that they labor ceaselessly on account of money.”
Considerations for the Future
What I find most interesting about the Groff case is not Gerald Groff’s desire to practice his faith. As much as I sympathize with his position, the problem as I see it comes down to the fact that he is expecting a federal government (in the form of the USPS) that is hostile to and would like to take the place of his faith, to give him a fair hearing. Not saying he won’t, but I’m not very optimistic about it either. For even if the case is ruled in his favor, implementing those religious protections will continue to be an uphill battle as companies and lower courts can simply ignore or interpret the ruling to their own liking. After all, look at same stock calls for more gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings, as if those making them have never heard of the Heller case. Well of course they have, they just don’t care.
Going forward, Christians are going to have to start engaging in their own form of a separation of Church and State where they set clear and distinct boundaries to keep Caesar and Mammon in their proper place. For it is clear that the machinations of the federal government are in large part no longer compatible with our Christian faith, and it is likely to get worse in the very near future.
In terms of Gerald Groff, he will have to do what is right and proper for his faith and family. But as someone who was a former small business owner and who now works in retail, the complaints of his coworkers having to pick up the slack when he doesn’t show up or not getting a Sunday off (you don’t have to be a Christian to want it off) are not insignificant. Thus for those who find themselves in a situation like Groff, especially if they have a government job, as hard as it may be, you really may want to find a different job.
For one thing you, if you are working in a government position (state or federal) for the inflated pay, security, and benefits, you may be in for a rude awakening. Our nation is in a precarious position with our national debt (and its projected interest payments) and the nation’s unfunded entitlement payments in the form of benefits and pensions, which run into the hundreds of trillions of dollars. As James C. Bennet and Michael J. Lotus point out in their book America 3.0 a “Big Haircut” is coming, where some event will cause the value of the American dollar to plummet, and the federal government will settle all of its outstanding debts by paying them off at a far less amount than promised. In effect, they will cut off their legs so the body will survive. And in case you’re wondering, your government pension and insurance will be in those legs.
Moreover, the Groff case is, as Rachel Laser mentioned above, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a sign of things to come. For make no mistake as our public trust in our governing agencies continues to erode, people will have less respect for their authority. When this happens, the government will simply redouble its efforts in order to maintain control and order (NB- not law and order) and it is already happening. As was recently reported at Church Militant, it will be done by something know as a "notice of proposed rule makings" by which the president or members of his cabinet will be able to go into the rules that govern those departments and “amend” or “redefine, broaden, narrow the scope” of how those rules will be implemented.
This is already being done with the Department of Heath and Human Services by amending its rules in order to force doctors and other healthcare workers to violate their religious consciences by performing abortions and gender reassignment surgery. But also with the Department of Education which is seeking to redefine “sexual discrimination” and going after the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry rule by withholding funding from religious student organizations if their beliefs run counter to the prevail progressive social beliefs of most secular universities.
If that is not enough incentive to do as much as you can to disentangle yourself from the current fight-geist, I don’t know what will. It is time for Christians to start giving serious consideration to starting and participating in parallel economies. And contrary to popular belief, doing so is not about running away from the woke world that hates you, but is about establishing a separate and stable base from which to conduct business with any and all who are willing to respect your Christian principles- such as not operating on Sundays. Furthermore, we should be encouraging our children to become captains of their own domestic “Barques” (churches) and to start business to fill in this parallel economy. Again, as someone who ran a small business, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just need to find a need that is not being met or one that can be done better (according to Christian principles), and go for it.
Lastly, while there is a lot of talk about A.I. taking over our jobs as well as the old Luddite fallacy popping up over and over again, we should be finding ways to use all of this to our advantage. For just as grace perfects nature, the key to using technology is to use it to perfect our work, not replace it. We should be striving to improve our lives and of others by working smarter and efficiently so that we can work all the days of the week and leave Sunday to God. For the same rational soul that he breathed into us, the one that allows us to know and love the Lord, is the same one we should be using to find better and holier ways to serve and love our families and neighbors. To live not as we want, but as we ought to.
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