ACLJ Defends Major Department Store Employee Accused of "Falsifying Documents" and Fired for Requesting Religious Accommodation To Attend Church


Abigail A. Southerland


October 18, 2021

Defending religious liberty has been at the forefront of the mission of the ACLJ for over 30 years. And that mission is needed NOW MORE THAN EVER.

The radical Left is waging an all-out assault on religious liberty, targeting churches to harass, discriminate against, and even shut down. We’ve told you how we were forced to file a lawsuit against a Virginia municipality after it blocked a church from holding worship services on its own property until it obtains a LIQUOR LICENSE. Yes, it’s as absurd as it sounds. The church doesn’t even use wine in communion.

We also recently defended a church after a city employee threatened to have its members arrested for distributing religious literature on public property. We immediately contacted the city to notify them that the employee was illegally violating the church members’ First Amendment rights.

It’s not just traditional churches experiencing harassment and discrimination. We’ve told you how home churches, Bible studies, religious schools, day care centers, and even individual believers are being targeted by the radical Left. And that disdain for faith is seeping into the private sector. At a time when we’re constantly hearing how retailers and restaurants are drastically understaffed and need help, a major retail chain just fired a long-time employee because she wanted a day off – one day a week – in order to go to church.

The ACLJ is now representing a former employee of the retail store chain Belk after she was fired for requesting religious accommodation in her schedule. Our client, a 72-year-old Christian woman and long-time Belk employee, had requested and received the Sabbath day (Saturday) off so that she could attend church services for 13 years without issue. That is until she was notified out of the blue that she must again request religious accommodation in order to receive that regular day off.

Our client not only did as requested, she provided a letter from her pastor with his phone number and address, inviting her employer to follow-up with him directly. But this time, Belk rejected her request out of hand because she attended a home church. But not only that, our client was accused by her employer of falsifying documents, and the sincerity of her religious beliefs were actually questioned. Apparently Belk determined neither our client’s beliefs nor her church were legitimate simply because Belk couldn’t google her church and pastor. 

Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act requires private employers to provide a reasonable religious accommodation upon request. Yet instead of complying with the law, as it had done for over a dozen years, Belk opted to fire our client, who had been a loyal employee for years. Their rejection of her request was not based on any inability to provide her the time off for church, but rather on the company’s bias – or at least one of its representative’s bias – against her religious beliefs and/or how she chooses to exercise those beliefs.

Department stores do not get to determine what qualifies as a church or place of worship. Christians know that the church is not defined by the building, but by the body of believers who come to worship, pray, and fellowship together in the presence of the Lord. A home church is no less valid than a modern megachurch or historic cathedral. As Matthew 18:20 states: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Therefore, denying our client a religious accommodation to attend a home church, let alone accusing her of fraud, is no less egregious than it would be if she had requested a day off to worship in some large, long-established sanctuary. It is wrong. It is unjust. And we are taking action to defend our client, as well as the religious liberty of all believers so that their jobs cannot be held over their heads to keep them from attending the church of their choice.

The ACLJ legal team immediately issued a legal demand letter to Belk department stores, informing them of their error and demanding that our client’s employment be reinstated along with the religious accommodation she had requested and which, until recently, had been granted without a problem. We are hopeful that our letter will educate them on their mistake. As of yet, we have not received a response from Belk. We are prepared to take further action, even in court if necessary.

We will keep you up to date on our efforts in this case as it progresses.

These cases are vitally important, and the ACLJ takes these cases entirely free-of-charge to our clients. We rely solely on the generosity of our members. Support our work by making a tax-deductible gift to defend religious liberty nationwide. Donate today.