Michigan Detention Officer Fired for Keeping the Sabbath

Have you ever experienced being fired from a job after only two days? That’s exactly what happened to Sylvia Coleman, and now she’s taking her case to court in the United States of America v. City of Lansing, Michigan.

In the summer of 2017, Sylvia Coleman applied for a position as a detention officer in the Lansing, Michigan Police Department. The application clearly stated that the job required working any day of the week or any hour of the day without restriction, including 12-hour shifts and regular overtime assignments.

However, as a Seventh-day Adventist, Coleman held the belief in keeping the biblical Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Observing the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, which includes the commandment to rest on the seventh day. It states, “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it, you shall do no work: you, your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:9-10).

During the application process, Coleman made it clear that she could not work on Saturdays. Despite this, she was contacted for an interview in December of the same year, where she expressed her unavailability to work on the Sabbath.

In a subsequent in-person interview, Coleman was asked about the hours of a detention officer, with emphasis on the position being a 24/7 operation. She mentioned that she was flexible within the parameters of her religious observance of the Sabbath. This interview took place with the same Human Resources representative who had been aware of Coleman’s religious beliefs from the beginning.

After being hired, Coleman received her work schedule, which included a shift on Saturday, June 23, 2018. She immediately raised her concerns with Human Resources and her supervisor, offering to work a 16-hour shift after the Sabbath had ended. However, her supervisor refused, stating that she was required to work her scheduled Saturday shift. As a result, Coleman was fired on June 20.

In response, Coleman filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which then escalated the case to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Lansing, claiming that the city had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. The lawsuit argued that Lansing failed to reasonably accommodate Coleman’s religious observance without causing undue hardship on the detention centre’s operations.

Lansing’s Director of Communications, Scott Bean, disputed the allegations, stating that the case was inconsistent with the facts and the law. The city intends to contest the lawsuit.

So, why was the Sabbath so important to Sylvia Coleman that she was willing to lose her job over it?

Observing the Sabbath is not only a biblical commandment but also an expression of one’s faith and devotion to God. Jesus Himself said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23). Keeping God’s commandments, including the Sabbath, is a way of showing love for God. Just as one would not violate other commandments, such as committing adultery or stealing, the Sabbath commandment should also be upheld.

Unfortunately, the significance of the Sabbath has been neglected, misunderstood, and misapplied by many Christians. Understanding the history and purpose of the Sabbath is crucial. To learn more about the Sabbath’s fascinating history, you can explore The Seventh Day series. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

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