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A $24,000 Victory Against Sabbath Discrimination

In another win for minority rights, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just issued a press release today noting a lawsuit victory for a CNA fired for her Sabbath practice.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – White Hall Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, an elder-care facility in White Hall, Ark., will pay $24,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC’s lawsuit (Civil Action No. 5:08-cv-00185, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division) charged that White Hall denied a religious accommodation to a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and fired her because of her religious beliefs. The CNA, who had worked at White Hall’s long-term care facility for over a year, is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and her Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday evening. Her religious beliefs prohibit her from working on her Sabbath. After accommodating the CNA for over a year, the facility suddenly refused to allow the employee to take off on her Sabbath and then terminated her employment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ sincerely held religious beliefs as long as this does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

In addition to the monetary relief, the consent decree settling the suit, approved by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, enjoins White Hall from discrimination on the bases of religion and retaliation. Further, the decree requires the company to provide training to its supervisory and management personnel on religious discrimination, to submit two reports to the EEOC on the training and any future complaints of religious accommodation, and to post a notice reinforcing the company’s policies on Title VII.

An employee should not be forced to choose between her religion and her job,” said Faye A. Williams, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee, and Northern Mississippi. “This case demonstrates the EEOC’s commitment to combat religious discrimination in the workplace.”

Adventists are a minority by choice, by belief. (A fact those who regard homosexuality as a choice might remember.)

With the Pope’s recent “Caritas in Veritate” (Charity in truth) call for world justice, the paranoid wing of Adventism leaped back into the fray of end time scenarios. As usual, their fears betray their ignorance.

Like many small groups opposing globalization, Adventists fear the big. World wide ideas are the most powerful. (It’s interesting that our own evangelism and eschatological rhetoric also includes totalization – teach all nations, then the end, every eye will see.)

But in our 19th century sectarian micro fears, might we be missing the macro message of the gospel.

The encyclical notes that,

Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36- 40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16). . .

All too often, Adventists, particularly men, dismiss the gospel message of LOVE as mushy stuff, as ill-defined. We slap ourselves on the back for our strict understanding of doctrine and law. Theology is necessary, but many Adventists, and most pastors don’t understand this Jesus-modeled radical message of LOVE.

It is both micro and macro.

We sometimes get close to this in our non-combantancy stances, although too many miss that publicly opposing war is the logically macro outgrowth of not serving.

Sabbath also helps us see this bigger structural picture. As indicated by case after case, the Sabbath hurts the bottom line, even for good businesses. Of course, some commenters will point out that plenty of Adventists work on the Sabbath and I certainly don’t keep it like I did as a child, with separate Sabbath toys and such.

But the macro fact is that Adventists in the developed world continue to face much more hardship from businesses, not governments. And it is law, and the good work of lawyers, who protect our minority rights. This is civil rights via belief, a point we might remember the next time we hear someone whining about minority groups with their affirmative actions and their special rights.

Yes, around the world, too many minorities suffer under repressive governments and economies. But at least here, above, is another case of the U.S. government conspiring to protect the Sabbath. And on the other side: a business attempting to make a low paid employee choose between work and her beliefs.

Businesses do many fine things. But I wonder: might there be room in Adventism for a macro approach to the injustices of capitalism, this reduction of human faith and traditions to the dictates of the bottom line.

If non-combatancy is the micro version of being anti-war, what is the macro version of keeping the Sabbath?

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