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Atheists: Supreme Court Again Widens Gulf Between Rights of Religious and Nonreligious Workers

Washington, D.C.—Today, the religious equality organization American Atheists criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Groff v. DeJoy for siding with a religious litigant while ignoring how religious “accommodations” will impact others in the workplace, particularly the nonreligious.

“While today’s decision doesn’t give religious employees carte blanche in the workplace, it certainly continues this Court’s recent practice of expanding loopholes, accommodations, and ‘rights’ for the religious while shifting more burdens onto atheists, humanists, and the nonreligious,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, Litigation Counsel at American Atheists. “With the number of nonreligious Americans in the workplace on the rise, the idea that the government can force a business to favor religious employees over their nonreligious coworkers is deeply troubling.”

The plaintiff in Groff v. DeJoy, Gerald Groff, is a former employee of the U.S. Postal Service who was hired specifically to work evening, weekend, and holiday shifts. He later refused to work Sunday shifts, citing his Christian beliefs. Management made every attempt to accommodate his wishes in his four-person post office. However, after an employee was injured and a replacement could not be found, Groff began skipping those shifts entirely, forcing his coworkers to pick up the slack. After being disciplined, he resigned and sued USPS in federal court, arguing the Postal Service refused to provide “reasonable accommodations” for his religious beliefs.

American Atheists joined the Center for Inquiry in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. The organizations made four key arguments. First, giving Groff a religious exemption that forces his co-workers to bear the brunt of his absence would be unconstitutional. Second, weekends are vital to the health and lives of all Americans, and religious workers should not receive priority. Third, forcing only nonreligious employees to carry the burden of religious accommodations is discriminatory and unfair. Finally, giving automatic priority to religious claims in the workplace is unworkable and rife for abuse.

Nonreligious people already face heightened rates of stigma and discrimination in the workplace. A national survey of nearly 34,000 nonreligious Americans found that one in five (21.7%) has experienced employment discrimination because of their nonreligious beliefs.

“For the past few years, the Supreme Court has been experiencing a legitimacy crisis. Americans are increasingly questioning why Christian extremists are allowed to remake society in their image,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “And while today’s decision was not the complete victory hoped for by the Christian nationalist groups who funded this litigation, it is yet another example of how our legal system is willing to give special treatment to one class of people, the religious, at the expense of equality.”

“Ultimately, today’s decision means that employers, facing uncertainty around costly litigation and a Court that seems willing to side with any Christian litigant who comes to them with a grievance, will have to grant more religious ‘accommodations’ that will increase costs, disrupt their workplace, and shift burdens onto nonreligious members of their teams,” added Fish.