Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Silly Religious Accommodation Case

Liberty Counsel, Jerry Falwell’s third rate legal group, has dredged up yet another case of feigned persecution. They’ve filed an EEOC complaint on behalf of a woman who refused to answer the phones at her job by saying “Happy Holidays” because it was against her religion to contribute to the secularization of Christmas. She ended up being fired over it.

In late November, all company employees were told to answer the phones by saying, “Happy Holidays from Counts Oakes Resort Properties. How may I assist you?” Thomas objected to her supervisor and offered to say either “Merry Christmas” or to continue greeting callers the same way they are greeted throughout the year. She explained that her religious beliefs prevented her from contributing to the secularization of Christmas, and asked for an accommodation of her beliefs. On December 10, when the company president, Andy Phillips, came to see her, she politely reiterated her concern. Phillips then fired her for “insubordination” because she refused to say “Happy Holidays.”

The law requires that businesses make “reasonable accommodations” for the religious beliefs of employees. But is this is a reasonable accommodation? Maybe. I don’t see that it would be any sort of burden on the business to allow her to answer the phones the way she’d been instructed to do all year long. It’s not as though saying “happy holidays” does anything to really help the business.

At the same time, her request is clearly absurd. You work for a company answering phones, you answer them the way they want them answered. If her religion required that she greet every person by saying “greetings in the name of Jesus, the one true messiah who came to save mankind from their sins” that would hardly be reasonable. The mere fact that one asserts a religion reason not to want to do something should not require that they be given a pass from following the same rules everyone else has to follow.

If one applies the undue burden standard, the business probably loses because they can’t show why it would be an undue burden on them to have her answer the phone with the normal, non-holiday greeting. But must we really require businesses to accommodate the irrational views of its employees? I confess to being of two minds on this. After all, who gets to decide which views are irrational and therefore need not be accommodated? I’m not happy with either answer on this. But it irritates me to think that we have to go out of our way to cater to stupidity.