YNet News reports:
Dozens of Israel Postal Company employees in Ramat Gan refused to distribute thousands of copies of the New Testament to city residents. They claimed such distribution is forbidden according to [Jewish religious law], and might even be illegal [under Israeli law].
Both religious and secular postal workers were asked to hand out mail and advertisements on Monday, along with thousands of holy Christian booklets translated into Hebrew. The workers informed their supervisors that they refuse to distribute such materials….
[O]ne religious mailman explained that distributing the New Testament goes against his word view. “The halacha forbids me from handing out such idolatry material, and when there’s a contradiction between my religious belief and what my job requires of me, it’s clear to me what I chose,” he said. “It’s like if my manager were to come and tell me to work on Shabbat.”
According to him this is not the first time the mailmen have refused to distribute the booklets. He said his Gadera counterparts were successful in dodging such distribution ….
The Israel Postal Company (a branch of the Israeli government) is refusing the demand, to its credit. Among other things, the objecting employees’ claims that distributing proselytizing material violates Israeli law seems to be mistaken, at least according to the postal service and to the United States State Department (search for “proselytizing”). Nonetheless, at least one member of the Knesset (Orlev) is quoted as saying, “It’s unacceptable that the Israel Postal Company should participate in distributing missionary materials to the Jewish residents of Israel. We must clarify to the missionaries that the law forbids it.” If this were the law — or if there are proposals to change the law — that would, I think, be a bad law indeed, one that interferes with freedom of speech and religious freedom.
I should note that, if there were a way to easily accommodate the religious employees’ objections while still getting the mail delivered, and at no material cost to the post office, that would be good. American employment law generally requires such reasonable accommodations that don’t unduly burden employers; perhaps Israeli law does as well. (See this footnote for some cases in which this law was used to excuse people from generally applicable job requirements.) But my suspicion is that this would be very hard to do with postal employees, who have their own routes; filling in the gaps caused by many employees’ refusal to deliver particular items would be quite burdensome on the employer. In any event, the postal service’s job should be to deliver mailed material, whether or not that requires some route juggling, and that includes material that Member Orlev and various post office employees don’t approve of.
Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.
UPDATE: I originally focused solely on the religious postal workers, but on reflection I’ve broadened the block quote to also mention the fact that some secular postal workers objected.