August 29, 2014

Adventist Church Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Hijab Case


The Seventh-day
Adventist Church has filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief urging the top U.S.
court to accept the case of a Muslim woman who was denied a job at a clothing store because her
hijab, a head covering, violated corporate policy.

The Adventist Church
fears that without intervention from the Supreme Court, the ruling of a lower
court will create a legal precedent that will erode the workplace rights of
Adventists who refuse to work on Sabbath.

“If this decision
were to stand, employers would be able to avoid their obligation to provide
reasonable accommodation for employees of faith,” said Todd McFarland, an
associate general counsel for the Seventh-day Adventist Church headquarters.
“It could mean that everyone from Sikhs who are wearing a turban to Seventh-day
Adventists and Jews who need Sabbath off from work could be denied a reasonable

<strong>IN COURT:</strong> People walking past an Abercrombie & Fitch store in New York. Photo: Wikicommons

<strong>THE HIJAB:</strong> A girl wearing a hijab, a Muslim headscarf, in Iraq in 2003. Photo: Wikicommons

The case stems from a 2008 incident in which Samantha Elauf wore a hijab while
applying for a sales position at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in
Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a manager confirmed with a supervisor that Elauf’s
headwear violated store policy, she was deemed ineligible for hire without any discussion
of religious accommodation, according to court papers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a U.S. government watchdog
that filed the lawsuit on Elauf’s behalf, said the hiring decision violated
Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, which obligates employers to take steps
to “reasonably accommodate” a prospective employee’s “religious observance or

Read the Adventist “friend-of-the-court” brief (PDF)

While a federal judge sided with Elauf in 2011, the 10th Circuit Court of
Appeals in Denver overturned the decision last year, saying an employee’s religious
observances or practices are protected by law if the employee’s religion demands
them, but not if it simply encourages them.

The court also found
that Elauf, even though she was wearing a hijab, never told the clothing
retailer that she needed a religious accommodation.

And that, Adventist legal experts say, places undue responsibility on job applicants
to determine whether their religious beliefs or practices conflict with company

“Frequently, an
applicant will be unaware of a work-religion conflict simply because of her
inferior knowledge of the employer’s work requirements,” the church said in its
amicus brief filed Wednesday with the Supreme Court.

Also, the hiring process may make it impossible for the potential employee to raise
the issue of potential conflict, such as if it includes an online application
that asks which days of the week the applicant is available to work, it said.

The U.S. Supreme
Court will decide in October whether to accept the case.

Religious clothing and the observance of Sabbath and other holy days are the
most common areas of conflict in the workplace, McFarland said. Hijabs,
turbans, and yarmulkes frequently conflict with a company’s policy on attire,
while Sabbath observance can clash with scheduling plans. 

The Adventist Church was joined on the 30-page brief by seven other faith groups: the
National Association of Evangelicals, Union of Reform Judaism, Christian Legal
Society, The Sikh Coalition, American Jewish Committee, Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers
for Human Rights, and the American Islamic Congress.

Abercrombie & Fitch changed its policy on headwear about four years ago.
The Ohio-based company has settled similar lawsuits in California.

— Additional reporting by Elizabeth