Religious groups may hire on basis of religion

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from former employees of the Christian relief organization World Vision who lost their jobs because they no longer believed in the organization’s statement of faith.  This means that Christian organizations are not violating discrimination laws when they hire only Christians.

The U.S. Supreme Court let a lower court decision stand Monday that Federal Way-based nonprofit World Vision can hire only Christians to work in its U.S. operations.

The largest nonprofit in the state has the right to hire or dismiss employees based on their religious affiliation, the court ruled by allowing the lower court decision to stand.

The four-year court fight was initiated by three former World Vision employees who were fired because they didn’t agree with World Vision’s U.S. statement of faith, which World Vision says is a condition of employment.

In August, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that World Vision could legally discriminate in hiring based on religious affiliation. The court, upholding a lower court ruling on a discrimination suit, said World Vision qualifies as a faith-based humanitarian organization and is exempt from the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court Monday affirmed that appeals court decision by refusing to hear the case.

via Supreme Court: World Vision can hire only Christians – Puget Sound Business Journal.

In a related issue, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday on the case involving an LCMS school that fired a called teacher for her health problems.   At issue is  whether a church body can designate a called teacher a “minister,” even though she teaches non-religious subjects, and so invoke the  “ministerial exemption” from disability and other anti-discrimination laws.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It’s an application of “Freedom of Association” which has been read into the First Amendment. Non-profits get to take advantage of it (in some cases), but for some reason, commercial interests don’t.

    I think there is some kind of compartmentalized thinking going on in America concerning who is allowed to discriminate against whom and for which specific reasons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It’s an application of “Freedom of Association” which has been read into the First Amendment. Non-profits get to take advantage of it (in some cases), but for some reason, commercial interests don’t.

    I think there is some kind of compartmentalized thinking going on in America concerning who is allowed to discriminate against whom and for which specific reasons.

  • DonS

    Isn’t it sad that this case had to be litigated for four years, over such a seemingly basic concept as that an organization, particularly a religious one, is not forced to hire or retain employees who don’t believe in its mission?

    Should any employer be forced to retain an employee, who is supposedly employed at-will, who does not support the mission of the employer?

  • DonS

    Isn’t it sad that this case had to be litigated for four years, over such a seemingly basic concept as that an organization, particularly a religious one, is not forced to hire or retain employees who don’t believe in its mission?

    Should any employer be forced to retain an employee, who is supposedly employed at-will, who does not support the mission of the employer?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Really, all of one comment here (no offense, Mike; I’ll get to yours in a bit)? What, because it’s a victory of sorts, and thus doesn’t get anyone’s hackles up?

    I’m glad to hear of this decision. And I usually expect to be disappointed by the Supreme Court these days.

    I did find this part of the article interesting, though:

    The court … said World Vision qualifies as a faith-based humanitarian organization and is exempt from the Civil Rights Act.

    Is the “humanitarian” part relevant? That is, would the Civil Rights Act apply to a faith-based organization that is not “humanitarian”? Are churches considered “humanitarian”? I’m too lazy to find and read the actual judgment today.

    I will say that this completely flies in the face of the usual complaints one hears (from “conservatives”) about the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    I would also venture a guess that, were this a Muslim organization firing employees who had converted to Christianity, we might be hearing a lot more from the right-wing echosphere about “Sharia” this and that.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Really, all of one comment here (no offense, Mike; I’ll get to yours in a bit)? What, because it’s a victory of sorts, and thus doesn’t get anyone’s hackles up?

    I’m glad to hear of this decision. And I usually expect to be disappointed by the Supreme Court these days.

    I did find this part of the article interesting, though:

    The court … said World Vision qualifies as a faith-based humanitarian organization and is exempt from the Civil Rights Act.

    Is the “humanitarian” part relevant? That is, would the Civil Rights Act apply to a faith-based organization that is not “humanitarian”? Are churches considered “humanitarian”? I’m too lazy to find and read the actual judgment today.

    I will say that this completely flies in the face of the usual complaints one hears (from “conservatives”) about the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    I would also venture a guess that, were this a Muslim organization firing employees who had converted to Christianity, we might be hearing a lot more from the right-wing echosphere about “Sharia” this and that.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Was she really fired because she didn’t believe in the mission?

    The contention is that she was fired due to her disability.

    She had a one year contract, but they hired a replacement while she was out on disability. By now it seems obvious that the take away message is that it is easier and cheaper in a case like this to let the person reshelve books in the library than to fire them if he can possibly sue.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Was she really fired because she didn’t believe in the mission?

    The contention is that she was fired due to her disability.

    She had a one year contract, but they hired a replacement while she was out on disability. By now it seems obvious that the take away message is that it is easier and cheaper in a case like this to let the person reshelve books in the library than to fire them if he can possibly sue.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Okay, my comment now looks like a non sequitur, with typos! LOL

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Okay, my comment now looks like a non sequitur, with typos! LOL

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And then DonS writes a comment (@2) while I’m writing mine that makes my response make less sense. Thanks a lot, Don. ;)

    Anyhow, Mike said (@1),

    It’s an application of “Freedom of Association” which has been read into the First Amendment.

    Are you sure? Are you getting that from somewhere, or is that just your reading of it?

    Non-profits get to take advantage of it (in some cases), but for some reason, commercial interests don’t.

    The article doesn’t say that — are you getting that from somewhere else? The article says the exemption ruling is due to their being a “faith-based humanitarian organization”, not based on the profit-making nature of the organization.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And then DonS writes a comment (@2) while I’m writing mine that makes my response make less sense. Thanks a lot, Don. ;)

    Anyhow, Mike said (@1),

    It’s an application of “Freedom of Association” which has been read into the First Amendment.

    Are you sure? Are you getting that from somewhere, or is that just your reading of it?

    Non-profits get to take advantage of it (in some cases), but for some reason, commercial interests don’t.

    The article doesn’t say that — are you getting that from somewhere else? The article says the exemption ruling is due to their being a “faith-based humanitarian organization”, not based on the profit-making nature of the organization.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I’ll admit that I haven’t read the actual ruling, but isn’t “freedom of association” the basis upon which these kid of cases are always argued? I could be wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I’ll admit that I haven’t read the actual ruling, but isn’t “freedom of association” the basis upon which these kid of cases are always argued? I could be wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    The Ninth Circuit ruling is here. Yes it looks like the opinion given is based on “whether a faith-based humanitarian organization is exempt from Title VII’s prohibition against religious
    discrimination.”

    What that’s got to do with the Constitution is less clear to me, but I haven’t read through the argumentation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    The Ninth Circuit ruling is here. Yes it looks like the opinion given is based on “whether a faith-based humanitarian organization is exempt from Title VII’s prohibition against religious
    discrimination.”

    What that’s got to do with the Constitution is less clear to me, but I haven’t read through the argumentation.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS asked (@2):

    Isn’t it sad that this case had to be litigated for four years, over such a seemingly basic concept as that an organization, particularly a religious one, is not forced to hire or retain employees who don’t believe in its mission?

    Well, no. Because the state also has an interest in ensuring that people are not being discriminated against for their religious beliefs. The line between religious discrimination, on the one hand, and hiring people whose beliefs are important to their function in the organization, on the other, is a pretty murky one, and I would expect it to take no small amount of deliberation.

    Should any employer be forced to retain an employee, who is supposedly employed at-will, who does not support the mission of the employer?

    The implication being that these employees “did not support the mission of the employer” — but on what basis would you make such a claim? Here’s what the article says:

    The largest nonprofit in the state has the right to hire or dismiss employees based on their religious affiliation, the court ruled by allowing the lower court decision to stand.

    One’s religious affiliation does not necessarily say anything about one’s support of an employer’s mission — especially with an organization like this one.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS asked (@2):

    Isn’t it sad that this case had to be litigated for four years, over such a seemingly basic concept as that an organization, particularly a religious one, is not forced to hire or retain employees who don’t believe in its mission?

    Well, no. Because the state also has an interest in ensuring that people are not being discriminated against for their religious beliefs. The line between religious discrimination, on the one hand, and hiring people whose beliefs are important to their function in the organization, on the other, is a pretty murky one, and I would expect it to take no small amount of deliberation.

    Should any employer be forced to retain an employee, who is supposedly employed at-will, who does not support the mission of the employer?

    The implication being that these employees “did not support the mission of the employer” — but on what basis would you make such a claim? Here’s what the article says:

    The largest nonprofit in the state has the right to hire or dismiss employees based on their religious affiliation, the court ruled by allowing the lower court decision to stand.

    One’s religious affiliation does not necessarily say anything about one’s support of an employer’s mission — especially with an organization like this one.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 6 (and 3): You’re welcome. ;-)

    I skimmed the 9th Circuit case when it issued back in August (the news today was just that the Supreme Court will not hear the appeal from that case), and my recollection is that “humanitarian” is not the issue, “faith-based” is. The key is that the organization is faith-based, and its mission is integral to its statement of faith. So, my interpretation is that if the organization has a statement of faith, and what it does is integral to that statement of faith, then if you live within the boundaries of the 9th Circuit you can hire and retain only employees agreeing with and supporting that statement of faith. Of course, the devil will be in the details. How specific is the statement of faith (World Vision’s is pretty generic evangelical)? How closely aligned must the employee’s personal faith be to the statement of faith (eg Lutheran vs. Baptist)? Etc. Those issues will probably be litigated in the future, but my guess is that the guiding principle will survive — as long as the organization’s requirement of adherence to its mission statement (statement of faith) is reasonably related to the performance of the organization’s mission, it will be allowed to openly hire and fire accordingly.

    Mike, I don’t believe the case was decided on freedom of association grounds. Employment law long ago abrogated freedom of association as a legitimate grounds for making employment decisions.

    I would also venture a guess that, were this a Muslim organization firing employees who had converted to Christianity, we might be hearing a lot more from the right-wing echosphere about “Sharia” this and that.

    You’re probably right. However, if the Muslim organization exists to fulfil a Muslim mission statement, Christians don’t belong there. On the other hand, if it is a bakery or other secular business which just happens to be owned by a Muslim, the Muslim has no right to discriminate against Christians, and vice-versa.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 6 (and 3): You’re welcome. ;-)

    I skimmed the 9th Circuit case when it issued back in August (the news today was just that the Supreme Court will not hear the appeal from that case), and my recollection is that “humanitarian” is not the issue, “faith-based” is. The key is that the organization is faith-based, and its mission is integral to its statement of faith. So, my interpretation is that if the organization has a statement of faith, and what it does is integral to that statement of faith, then if you live within the boundaries of the 9th Circuit you can hire and retain only employees agreeing with and supporting that statement of faith. Of course, the devil will be in the details. How specific is the statement of faith (World Vision’s is pretty generic evangelical)? How closely aligned must the employee’s personal faith be to the statement of faith (eg Lutheran vs. Baptist)? Etc. Those issues will probably be litigated in the future, but my guess is that the guiding principle will survive — as long as the organization’s requirement of adherence to its mission statement (statement of faith) is reasonably related to the performance of the organization’s mission, it will be allowed to openly hire and fire accordingly.

    Mike, I don’t believe the case was decided on freedom of association grounds. Employment law long ago abrogated freedom of association as a legitimate grounds for making employment decisions.

    I would also venture a guess that, were this a Muslim organization firing employees who had converted to Christianity, we might be hearing a lot more from the right-wing echosphere about “Sharia” this and that.

    You’re probably right. However, if the Muslim organization exists to fulfil a Muslim mission statement, Christians don’t belong there. On the other hand, if it is a bakery or other secular business which just happens to be owned by a Muslim, the Muslim has no right to discriminate against Christians, and vice-versa.

  • Carl Vehse

    tODD 23: “I would also venture a guess that, were this a Muslim organization firing employees who had converted to Christianity, we might be hearing a lot more from the right-wing echosphere about “Sharia” this and that.”

    Well, venture a guess again. That may not be always true, especially if the organization were part of a mosque. Furthermore, just as Mohammedans have filed an amicus curiae brief supporting a Lutheran church in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case before the SCOTUS, the LCMS has also filed similar briefs in the past supporting non-Christian religious organizations.

    In the 1995 Lundman v. McKown case in which the divorced father of a boy sued the boy’s mother, her husband, their Christian Scientist church, and a Christian Scientist nurse for “wrongful conduct” in not providing the juvenile diabetic with insulin, resulting in the boy’s death, the LCMS amicus brief supported the Christian Scientist church against the “wrongful conduct” claim.

    One can look at the list of amicus briefs before the SCOTUS case and see Jewish and Mormon organizations supporting Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church.

  • Carl Vehse

    tODD 23: “I would also venture a guess that, were this a Muslim organization firing employees who had converted to Christianity, we might be hearing a lot more from the right-wing echosphere about “Sharia” this and that.”

    Well, venture a guess again. That may not be always true, especially if the organization were part of a mosque. Furthermore, just as Mohammedans have filed an amicus curiae brief supporting a Lutheran church in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case before the SCOTUS, the LCMS has also filed similar briefs in the past supporting non-Christian religious organizations.

    In the 1995 Lundman v. McKown case in which the divorced father of a boy sued the boy’s mother, her husband, their Christian Scientist church, and a Christian Scientist nurse for “wrongful conduct” in not providing the juvenile diabetic with insulin, resulting in the boy’s death, the LCMS amicus brief supported the Christian Scientist church against the “wrongful conduct” claim.

    One can look at the list of amicus briefs before the SCOTUS case and see Jewish and Mormon organizations supporting Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Yeah, this summary from the opinion (thanks, Mike @8) makes it clear what this decision was about:

    Religious discrimination is, of
    course, barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. … That bar, however, does not apply to “a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such [entity] of its activities.” … World Vision’s eligibility for this exemption is the issue presented in this appeal.

    Like DonS said (@10), the “humanitarian” part doesn’t seem to be at issue. The test seems to be (1) is this a religious organization and (2) does the job there necessarily require religious adherence to be performed?

    DonS also said:

    However, if the Muslim organization exists to fulfil a Muslim mission statement, Christians don’t belong there.

    Okay, but, again, I don’t expect to hear much argument along those lines from the right-wingers should this hypothetical situation come to pass. But it’s all too hypothetical, so never mind. I can wait.

    On the other hand, if it is a bakery or other secular business which just happens to be owned by a Muslim, the Muslim has no right to discriminate against Christians, and vice-versa.

    But this is exactly why this sort of ruling gets so bogged down in the courts. The line here is not so sharp.

    What if the bakery only makes halal treats? Would that be sufficient justification for firing a recently converted Christian? What if the Muslims who ran the place held as a religious tenet that it was sinful for them to work with Christians?

    You can see how the line between what is discriminatory and what is a proper function of religion is tricky.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Yeah, this summary from the opinion (thanks, Mike @8) makes it clear what this decision was about:

    Religious discrimination is, of
    course, barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. … That bar, however, does not apply to “a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such [entity] of its activities.” … World Vision’s eligibility for this exemption is the issue presented in this appeal.

    Like DonS said (@10), the “humanitarian” part doesn’t seem to be at issue. The test seems to be (1) is this a religious organization and (2) does the job there necessarily require religious adherence to be performed?

    DonS also said:

    However, if the Muslim organization exists to fulfil a Muslim mission statement, Christians don’t belong there.

    Okay, but, again, I don’t expect to hear much argument along those lines from the right-wingers should this hypothetical situation come to pass. But it’s all too hypothetical, so never mind. I can wait.

    On the other hand, if it is a bakery or other secular business which just happens to be owned by a Muslim, the Muslim has no right to discriminate against Christians, and vice-versa.

    But this is exactly why this sort of ruling gets so bogged down in the courts. The line here is not so sharp.

    What if the bakery only makes halal treats? Would that be sufficient justification for firing a recently converted Christian? What if the Muslims who ran the place held as a religious tenet that it was sinful for them to work with Christians?

    You can see how the line between what is discriminatory and what is a proper function of religion is tricky.

  • Carl Vehse

    The article on Hosanna-Tabor vs. EEOC is a lot of tapdancing around the issue that boils down to this: A religious organization discriminates against an employee by pressuring her to resign because of the employee’s physical disability and changing the school policy on disability leave midway through the teacher’s authorized leave, even though she had satisfied the religious criteria to be a commissioned teacher/minister, keeped the school informed on her health status, presented her physician’s medical statement that she was again fit for unrestricted teaching duties, and shown up for work on the day she was no longer eligible for disability coverage.

    However, that religious organization maintains that, after an commissioned minister was told she “would likely be fired”, when an employee verbally objects to such illegal discrimination and states that she may assert her legal rights if a compromise could not be reached, such statements by a commissioned teacher then constitute “insubordination and disruptive behavior” and “damaged, beyond repair” her working relationship with the school. Thus the church claims the employee has violated the organization’s religious tenets, thus allowing the religious organization to claim they deposed the individual for violating that church’s religious tenets and not because of any discrimination against that individual’s physically disability.

  • Carl Vehse

    The article on Hosanna-Tabor vs. EEOC is a lot of tapdancing around the issue that boils down to this: A religious organization discriminates against an employee by pressuring her to resign because of the employee’s physical disability and changing the school policy on disability leave midway through the teacher’s authorized leave, even though she had satisfied the religious criteria to be a commissioned teacher/minister, keeped the school informed on her health status, presented her physician’s medical statement that she was again fit for unrestricted teaching duties, and shown up for work on the day she was no longer eligible for disability coverage.

    However, that religious organization maintains that, after an commissioned minister was told she “would likely be fired”, when an employee verbally objects to such illegal discrimination and states that she may assert her legal rights if a compromise could not be reached, such statements by a commissioned teacher then constitute “insubordination and disruptive behavior” and “damaged, beyond repair” her working relationship with the school. Thus the church claims the employee has violated the organization’s religious tenets, thus allowing the religious organization to claim they deposed the individual for violating that church’s religious tenets and not because of any discrimination against that individual’s physically disability.

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