Cincinnati Sabbath-keeper says religion under crossfire
By Bill Stough
LONEDELL, Mo.--Court decisions in recent years have made it more difficult for people to exercise their religious beliefs. For instance, in Employment Division vs. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 decided that a government entity needs only to demonstrate a minimal justification (a "rational basis") to maintain neutral, generally applicable laws that have the effect of burdening the free exercise of religion. So says the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., which defends constitutional rights.
This decision in particular caused problems for religious people, even though courts had undermined religious freedom for some time. The Employment Division vs. Smith decision prompted congress in 1992 to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which required the government to demonstrate the highest form of justification (a "compelling interest") to sustain neutral, generally applicable laws that pose a substantial burden to free exercise of religion.
In 1997, in City of Boerne (Texas) vs. Flores, the Supreme Court struck down the RFRA, reasoning that Congress had overstepped its authority under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment to enact remedial legislation for substantive constitutional rights.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act had been abused, particularly by prisoners, but the loss of the RFRA makes it more difficult for religious people to freely practice their beliefs.
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit, legal and educational organization that specializes in the defense of civil liberties and human rights, especially those of religious people. The institute claims it defends more cases than any other institution in the United States. Its work is carried out free of charge (it is funded by donations).
Rutherford was founded by author and attorney John W. Whitehead in 1982 to defend people whose constitutional rights were violated. It has established a network of affiliate attorneys and provides legal resources for lawyers involved in constitutional litigation.
According to information published on the Rutherford Institute's Web site, the name is derived from "Samuel Rutherford, a 17th-century Scot who resisted the idea of the divine right of kings. In his book Lex Rex, he argues that all people are subject to a higher law, or God's law--including the king. This same premise, that leaders are responsible to a law apart from and higher than themselves, was central to the formation of the United States government."
For more information about the Rutherford Institute, write P.O. Box 7482, Charlottesville, Va. 22906. Phone (804) 978-3888, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Rutherford's Web site is at www.rutherford.org.
A Church of God member's situation
Jan Creusere is a union carpenter and Church of God member in Cincinnati, Ohio, who says he has faced discrimination in the workplace because of his beliefs regarding the Sabbath.
Mr. Creusere, 49, says he would like nothing better than to be a Sabbath-keeping carpenter and live in peace. Instead, he says he has been forced to fight for religious freedoms that he feels are supposed to be guaranteed to Americans.
"On July 1, 1996," he told The Journal, "the Southwest Ohio District Council of Carpenters and Joiners, of which I am a member, signed a contract with the Walls and Ceilings Contractors Association of Greater Cincinnati, which defines Saturday as part of the regular work week while maintaining Sunday as a double-time day."
The contract, he says, removes all equal-employment rights for Sabbatarians because it is part of a legally binding agreement recognized as such by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees labor agreements.
"This contract expires June 30, 1999," he said. "I petitioned the SWODCC [the carpenters' union] and their attorney for positive language in the new contract that would provide specific protection for Sabbath-keepers."
But so far Mr. Creusere has received no response and fears no response will be forthcoming unless Sabbatarians "sound off."
"They need to know we are not a handful of religious misfits but an entire class of people numbering in the millions that includes both Jews and Christians. They need to know such language in contracts specifically harms Sabbath-keepers."
Last Labor Day (Sept. 7) five friends, all Church of God members, joined with Mr. Creusere to protest the contract and other union job requirements at the union's Labor Day picnic. A Cincinnati television stationed filmed the protest but did not broadcast it.
Mr. Creusere says unions and contracts are supposed to accommodate Sabbatarian carpenters, but in the real world they do not. Sometimes employers will lay off anyone who will not work on Saturday, regardless of the reason.
Mr. Creusere has pointed out to union officials that Christ was a Sabbath-keeping carpenter and in today's world would be treated the same way.
A few employers, Mr. Creusere says, are careful how they dismiss someone so they can avoid legal problems, but they eventually find a way to "lay you off." Mr. Creusere has experienced these layoffs, which are really terminations, including one by a Jewish employer who insisted he work on the Sabbath.
"Corporate America doesn't care about religion," lamented Mr. Creusere, "and we need legislation and amendments to union contracts that protect those who observe either Saturday or Sunday or else greed will prevail over religion and morality."
Mr. Creusere and friends during their Labor Day protest parodied a popular bumper sticker that reads: "Unions: The People Who Brought You the Weekend." Mr. Creusere's parody said: "Unions: The People Who Brought You One Half the Weekend."
The long-time Church of God member says that in past years Saturday work in the construction field was the exception and was paid at double the normal rate. Then it slipped to time and a half. Recent contracts have allowed Saturday to become a day of regular pay if a weekday were rained out. Now Saturday work is becoming more common, and on jobs with Cincinnati union representation it is defined as part of the regular work week.
"Religion in general is under attack in America," said Mr. Creusere. "The Bible is under even greater assault. But the Sabbath has few friends and many, many enemies in what should be a diverse, tolerant, post-modern America."
Little by little, he believes, the rights of Sabbatarians are being destroyed by a "greedy" corporate America and unions who are hostile and indifferent to the rights and needs of Sabbath-keepers.
"There is, however, a fundamental reason I feel Sabbatarians have a particularly difficult time obtaining equal rights for employment that should be afforded all Americans under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It lies in the concept of undue hardship placed on an employer when requests are made for religious considerations."
This usually occurs when a Sabbatarian asks off work for a Saturday or Friday-night shift work. It also occurs before a Sabbath-keeper even lands a job, as when he applies for a job that includes Friday-night work or Saturday work, either regularly scheduled or on an as-needed basis.
Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Acts says reasonable accommodation must be made for requests based on religion by an employer unless such accommodation produces "undue hardship" on the employer.
"No mention is ever made of hardship on the religious employee or applicant," said Mr. Creusere.
This sets up the following legal circumstance:
Of the nine categories covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, only two of them employ "accommodation." In other words, an employer cannot say, "I will hire a person of minority race only if I can accommodate him." Or "I can't hire you because you are a woman and I don't have any bathrooms for women and it would cost me too much to put onein."
These fanciful policies would be illegal because of seven of the nine categories covered by the act. The concept of "accommodation" doesn't even come into play.
"But, for the disabled and for religion, accommodation is the name of the game," said Mr. Creusere. "There is now a push on in America that encourages everyone, including employers, to look for new and innovative ways to make life accessible to the handicapped. But the opposite is true for Americans of strong religious persuasion."
Whenever Mr. Creusere or a fellow Sabbath-keeper brings a charge of discrimination or suit against an employer, it must be tried like it is the first case of its kind.
"Each case reinvents the wheel," he said. "We always have to start from square one every time," although "no other protected category covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has to go through this--only those with religious complaints."
The First Amendment
People who want off to go to church on Sunday face the same legal quirks, but Sunday observers enjoy the advantage of their day being the favored day of the week.
Mr. Creusere quoted from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
"What does that mean?" he asked. "It does not mean there is no religion in our various branches and levels of government. It means no religion can be forced on anyone nor anyone prevented from practicing their religion."
Yet three years ago he applied for a job with the U.S. Postal Service and was required to sign a form called "Personal Statement of Appointee." The words on the form, which he was asked to conform to, included:
"With reference to my pending appointment in your installation, I hereby state that I have no disability which will prevent me from fulfilling the physical requirements of the position for which I am being considered. I understand that work assignments of a daily, Saturday, Sunday, and Holiday nature are subject to change according to the needs of the Postal Service. I am willing to work Saturday, Sunday, or Holiday schedules as assigned. I agree that other employment, or any other outside activity, will not be permitted to interfere with Postal Employment.'"
Such requirements are "fundamentally wrong," said Mr. Creusere. "This is a pure, unadulterated violation of the First Amendment, and it discriminates against anyone who goes to church whether it is Saturday or Sunday. Here is a government agency that makes people choose between their job or their religion. That should not be so in America."
Another example of potential discrimination that could affect Sabbath-keepers is a measure proposed by an elected official, Ken Blackwell, now Ohio's secretary of state, for Ohio primary elections to be conducted on Saturday rather than on Tuesday, as is now the case.
"Let's say a Seventh-day Adventist or a Jewish person is a regular voter," said Mr. Creusere. "That means all their voting would have to be by absentee ballot, and I feel that is very wrong. Changes like that run roughshod over the approximately three million Americans who keep the Sabbath. Mr. Blackwell is certainly trying to increase voter turnout by making elections more convenient and has probably never thought that it could be a religious problem for some. So we must learn to speak up or our rights will go away."
What's a person to do?
Some members of the Churches of God believe that voting and fighting for civil rights are participating in the ways of the world and should not be done. What does Mr. Creusere think about that?
"You don't have to be a voter, but in this country we have rights to religious freedom and we have rights to not have religion imposed on us. We need to stand up and speak up or else they will not recognize us or even our existence.
"Nor will they recognize our First Amendment [freedom-of-speech] rights or our right to earn a living. We are a people and need to identify ourselves as such. I say that economic oppression is persecution. We Sabbatarians, as do other American citizens, have First Amendment rights, and we do not sin by claiming them. God did not make His people to be doormats. That's why I ask people to read the book of Nehemiah. We are in the world but do not need to be of the world, and by that I refer to its evil ways."
Mr. Creusere believes an improvement in the climate for Sabbath-keepers in the Cincinnati carpenters' union could have effects more far reaching than just his job.
"It becomes like a crack in the dam that is keeping the waters of religious discrimination in place," he explained. "It can set precedents. The present contract specifically states that Saturday is part of the regular work week. You can't get any tougher on a Sabbath-keeper than that. If the new contract has an amendment protecting people of religious conviction who keep Saturday or Sunday--an overtime day--we have begun a positive movement."
Such an amendment, he believes, would protect people who base their lives on religion but would not in any way affect those who don't want or need such rights.
"America was founded by and for people who sought to live in freedom with the right to practice their religion. They didn't have such freedoms in Europe."
Mr. Creusere asks members of the Churches of God to pray for laws to protect Sabbatarians.
"If we don't ask God for help when we know we should, can we expect an answer?
"1 Timothy 2:2 says we should pray for those who make laws and rules so that we can live a quiet and peaceable life."
Mr. Creusere asks Sabbatarians to express their views to labor-union officials. Here are three: Jerry Monahan (Cincinnati Building Trades Council), 1550 Chase Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45223; Gregory L. Martin (Southwest Ohio District Council of Carpenters), 130 Tri-County Pkwy., Cincinnati, Ohio 45246; V. Daniel Radford (AFL-CIO), 215 E. Ninth St.; Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. Mr. Radford's E-mail address is email@example.com.
Mr. Creusere's address is 3943 Hazel Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45212.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God