We also have worked to educate and promote the Adventist principles of truth, justice and equality in Public Affairs as well as the related principles of Religious Liberty.
A major problem continues to be the conflict between members’ observance of God’s Sabbath and the demands of employers and businesses. We have been able to help many members keep their jobs and the Sabbath by making phone calls and writing letters on their behalf. We have provided assistance to more than 120 such members in the last six years. Most of the time, such efforts prove successful and members are given Sabbath accommodation.
Occasionally, an employer is unwilling to make such an accommodation. In these cases, employees who are faithful to the Sabbath are disciplined and lose their jobs. In these instances, we support and assist the employee in making a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for religious discrimination and failure to accommodate. We have helped in nearly 50 such cases these past five years.
In consultation with the General Conference PARL Department, the church, at times, considers taking some of these cases into actual litigation. Usually the decision to do so will depend on the strength of the case, and whether it will set good precedent for other future cases.
We also deal with other workplace/religion issues, and these are often favorably resolved. Objection to labor union membership or conscientious objection to financial support of a labor union is protected by statute and by court decisions. Although occasionally an employee might be challenged by the employer or the union, employees in such situations are ultimately being accommodated. In the last five years, we have helped a number of members on these sorts of issues.
Protecting door-to-door solicitation of funds and the distribution of literature is an ongoing issue. Many cities, in attempting to preserve privacy, have outlawed the sale of literature and the solicitation of funds for religious and other purposes. We have a continuing issue with the protection of the church’s activities performed by literature evangelists, students and churches engaged in ingathering-type activities.
The PARL leadership is anxious to involve young people in this important mission of the church. The LUC PARL Department has helped sponsor at Andrews University a number of programs and conferences to raise the awareness of Adventist young people about the importance of civil and religious freedoms.
We have had a yearly event at the University to highlight issues of religious freedom, culminating in 2019 with a major conference entitled, “Jesus and Politics,” which focused on how the gospel should impact our role and duty as citizens. A three-day conference with nationally recognized speakers, it was videoed and made available to more than 100 Adventist colleges and universities around the world. (Viewable at www.jesusandpoliticstoday.org.)
2020 was an unusual year with the global pandemic. When lockdowns first began, the PARL Department partnered with the Communication Department to host several Sabbath afternoon meetings on the topic of COVID-19, and also on questions of protest and justice in our communities. Later in the year, PARL also partnered with Andrews University and other groups to co-sponsor an international conference on religious freedom related to COVID-19 restrictions.
Religious Liberty scholars from the United States and Europe met for two days via Zoom to hear presentations about how religious liberty had been impacted by COVID-19 in their countries. (Viewable at www.covid-religiousliberty.org.) This led to an invitation from the Interfaith Forum of the G-20 Economic Forum to work with a group of scholars meeting in Bologna, Italy, to draft regulations and principles for protecting religious freedom internationally during the pandemic.
We have advocated for the fair treatment of religious organizations during the pandemic vis a vis secular organizations. We also have drafted a model letter to share with members who have personal objections to taking the vaccine and need help in responding to employer mandates. We believe that those on both sides of the vaccine question in the church should be treated with fairness and respect.
We have been instructed that “while we will endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, we will not with pen or voice cease to protest against bigotry....” (Manuscript Release, volume 11, page 229.2, Ellen G. White). The PARL Department of the Lake Union is committed to defending religious liberty and to speaking the truth in love on behalf of our members, friends and neighbors, whether in the courts, the legislature or the public square.
Nicholas Miller is legal counsel and director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Lake Union Conference.