The Alliance Defense Fund and Special Rights
July 21st, 2011
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is an anti-gay legal group disguised as protectors religious liberty. They believe government employees should be able to pick and choose which laws to follow based on their religious beliefs (as long as those beliefs are Christian).
Naturally, they think it’s perfectly reasonable for Town Clerks in New York to hold on to their jobs while refusing marriage licenses to qualified, law-abiding citizens (as long as those citizens are gay).
The ADF even offers up a legal rationale for this, based on New York state law.
Thus, as explained below, municipal clerks who have a sincerely held belief that prevents them from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples have the right to request an accommodation from their governing bodies.
New York law requires an employer to accommodate an employee’s religious observance or practice, “unless, after engaging in a bona fide effort, the employer demonstrates that it is unable to reasonably accommodate the employee’s or prospective employee’s sincerely held religious observance or practice…without undue hardship.” Executive Law § 296(10)(a). This law “represents a legislative expression of the high value that our State places on supporting and protecting [religious diversity] and in prohibiting invidious discrimination based on religious choice The statute ensures that no citizen will be required to choose between piety and gainful employment, unless the pragmatic realities of the work place accommodation impossible.” New York City Transit Auth. v. State, Exec. Dept., Div. of Human Rights , 89 N.Y.2d 79, 88 (N.Y. 1996).
Well, the law’s the law. Except…is that the law? Or a reasonable interpretation of it?
The law is about “religious observance or practice.” What does that mean? Check the law’s wording, which refers to:
…a sincerely held practice of his or her religion, including but not limited to the observance of any particular day or days or any portion thereof as a sabbath or other holy day in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion.
This seems to be about not making people work when their Sabbath says they should rest. About letting people leave work to attend religious services. It’s probably also about letting people pray at work, as Muslims need to do at regular intervals, and letting people wear religious clothing like a burqa or yarmulke (that’s the “including but not limited” portion).
Am I being too narrow? Again, check the law. It goes into detail, and those details are all about people taking time off for religious observance.
But wait! you cry, ADF didn’t just cite the law, they cited a court case, too! True enough. Let’s check that case — that one case, presumably the best case they could find — and discover it’s about…
…the right of a Jehovah’s Witness Seventh Day Adventist not to work on her Sabbath Day.
Yeah. The ADF isn’t bolstering their plea for a broad, broad, broooooad application of the law. I’m not an attorney, so I’ll appeal to the lawyers out there: Has any court interpreted this statute as a right to discriminate?
Let me be more specific:
Has any court interpreted “religious accommodation” law in a way that permits a public employee to complete a task for one group of legally-qualified, law-abiding citizens while refusing to do so for another such group?
If so I’d love to see it. Until then, I have to ask once again, who’s asking for special rights here?