By Anne-Marie L. Storey, Esq.
A correctional officer of the California Department of Corrections sued the employer after it required that he work overtime, which he contends violated “a tenet of his belief system, Sun Worshiping Atheism, that he sleep at least eight hours per day.” He argued that Sun Worshiping Atheism, which he founded and of which he is the only member, is a religion. The court found that this was not a protected religion entitled to protection under state law.
According to the employee, Sun Worshiping Atheism’s practices, done to “maintain mind-body wellbeing” are: “(1) Pray in the sun.” “(2) Take natural fresh air daily.” “(3) Sleep eight hours or more.” “(4) Eat and drink when you need to.” “(5) Exercise frequently.” “(6) Rest each day.” “(7) Have a job.” “(8) Be social frequently.” “(9) Respect the integrity of the independent mind.” “(10) Be skeptical in all things.”
The employee’s job required, among other things, mandatory overtime. He was aware of this when hired. While still in his initial probationary period, and the day after he posted his Sun Worshipping Atheism beliefs on the Internet, he requested not to work more than 12-hour shift in accordance with his beliefs. He argued that working more than that interfered with his religious belief that he needed at least eight hours of sleep. He alleged he received negative performance evaluations and other adverse actions after refusing the overtime but he admitted that no specific action was taken against him.
Plaintiff’s claims failed, in part because the appeals court refused to recognize Sun Worshipping Atheism as a religion. It determined that the alleged religion did not address fundamental questions “having to do with deep and imponderable matters” but instead was more focused on a healthy lifestyle. Ultimately, it found that the belief was a “moral and secular, rather than religious, philosophy” and stated that while it was not “judging the intrinsic value of plaintiff’s beliefs or doubting the sincerity of his belief in them… neither of these facts alone suffice to make them a religious creed under” state law.
Especially at this time of year we could all use a little sun worshipping, but that does not necessarily rise to the level of a religious belief.
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Anne-Marie Storey | Attorney
The Graham Building | 84 Harlow Street
P.O. Box 1401 | Bangor, Maine 04402-1401
tel: 207.947.4501 | fax: 207.941.9715