Working on Sunday

Here’s an update to last week’s post about a movement to curtail Sunday shopping in Europe. In that post, I speculated that allowing stores to open Sundays might create pressure for observant Christian employees: skip church and report to work, or lose your job. It turns out this concern isn’t speculative. In England, a High Court judge recently ruled that employers may discipline observant Christians who refuse to work Sundays.

The case involves Ms. Celestina Mba, who worked as a caregiver in a government-run children’s center. A devout Baptist, she goes to church every Sunday and does not wish to work on that day. When her employer — a government agency, note, in a state with an established church — pressured her to work Sundays, she quit and sued for employment discrimination. She lost at trial and, last month, in the High Court as well.

Why did she lose? English law allows employers to require employees to work Sundays if there is “a legitimate business need.” According to press reports, though, the High Court did not rely on that principle in Ms. Mba’s case. Rather, the court reasoned that Christianity did not require Sabbath observance in the first place. Plenty of Christians work Sundays, the court noted; only a few, like Ms. Mba, see it as a problem. As a result, religious freedom was not seriously implicated by requiring her to work. Employers, the court reasoned, do not need to accommodate outliers like Ms. Mba.

Now, this reasoning is very odd. The fact that some of those Christians who work Sundays might be doing so because they¬†have to — that is, because otherwise they would lose their Read more