The Supreme Court to Rule on the “Ministerial Exception”

From the Christian Science Monitor:

America’s religious institutions have long been able to stand apart from federal laws in the hiring and firing of employees crucial to their mission. Churches with male-only clergy, for example, can exercise that right to religious freedom despite the gender bias.

But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case in which, for the first time, the justices could lay out rules for government to decide if a group’s theology and practices are out of step with laws that bar discrimination.

The case involves the dismissal of a fourth-grade teacher by a church-run Lutheran school after she took a leave of absence for a sleep disorder. Concerned about her condition to teach again, the church asked her to resign. She threatened to file a discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The church then fired her, claiming she had violated church teachings on resolving resolve disputes internally with Christian principles.

A district court judge ruled against the teacher, Cheryl Perich, who was “called” by the church as a commissioned minister. But an appeals court found the Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church can be charged with retaliation under the ADA, claiming the teacher’s job was mostly secular – despite her duties to also teach the Bible and act as a Christian role model for students in teaching secular topics.

The high court is being asked to rule on the “ministerial exception,” a 40-year-old legal doctrine that allows religious groups to give “preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion” and to “require that all applicants and employees conform to the religious tenets of such organization.”

via The Supreme Court and the ‘ministerial exception’ –

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  • I’m so fascinated by these politiscuffles. Dallin H. Oaks, a Mormon apostle and lawyer, wrote an op-ed in Salt Lake’s (Mormon-owned) Deseret News during the whole Prop 8 thing, defending anti-gay legislation as an expression of religion, essentially saying that his right to discriminate superseded equal rights legislation. My Mormon brother-in-law is against gay marriage in part because he thinks that students attending BYU wouldn’t be able to get Pell grants or government aid because they would be attending what could be regarded as a discriminatory institution.

    This whole self-victimizing culture of anti-anti-discrimination is due for a massive upheaval. I don’t know how I feel about specific examples about theological tenets being subverted through equal hiring practices, though. I sorta feel that if they want the tax breaks afforded to them as a non-profit or religious organization, then they need to accept what comes with that. Otherwise, bye-bye non-profit status. Nobody’s making anybody do anything, but they don’t want to accept the consequential tradeoffs that would probably follow.

    • Lock

      In some cases people take deviant advantage through the non-profit category of institutions. However in general the non-profit can be very taking on the operations of a church or charity.

      Though the history of the Roman Catholic Church forcing doctrinal beliefs and conversions. One of the things about the LGBT movement is that groups of people that see LGBT as immoral will be forced into positions of difficult operations of their community.

      The secular and religious divide I think is good. There can come a day when a religion can force you into a disadvantaged position if you do not hold their beliefs.

      I realize that a lot of this is subjective, but that is where trial and error, and traditional ways of doing things comes in. It seems from your writing that you would be happy to see a church’s tax exemption revoked if it refused to hire a gay or transsexual person?

      • Firstly, you raise a lot of valid points that bear careful consideration. And honestly? I’m torn. On one hand, I can’t think of many things I think more important–or Christian–than being organizationally inclusive of the marginalized. On the other hand, the last lingering shreds of my former libertarianism rankle at the idea of private organizations being told what to do.

        I was raised Mormon and that’s the organized faith with which I’m most theologically and politically familiar, so I’ll use it for an example, but my understanding is that similar brouhahas have occurred with Catholic arms of charity/social services:

        The LDS Family Services is a rather impeccably run organization; in addition to low-cost (secular) therapy and health care, they’re also somewhat famous for their not-for-profit adoption service. It’s quite an amazing operation, and they do some especially wonderful work getting infants into better familial situations, in addition to preventing anyone from profiting on the process (a former relative keeps getting pregnant, living on government subsidy, and then giving the baby up for “private” adoption, which often more accurately resembles a baby-selling service than an adoption agency, wash/rinse/repeat).

        However, there is a chance that they may be forced to also adopt children to suitable gay/lesbian couples. There has been an awful lot of talk that indicates that they would rather shut down than allow children to be placed with gay couples. As far as I’m concerned, preferring to shut down a charitable service like that, or a food pantry, or a homeless shelter, or anything similar because you’re “forced” to offer that same help to people you believe to be “sinners” is myopic, cruel, and seems like clear evidence that you weren’t interested in “charity” anyway.

        So, I guess, if an organization wants to exclude people from its doors because they participate in a behavior that the organization believes to be “sinful,” then yes, they shouldn’t be able to receive tax breaks. Let them marginalize all they like; they’re welcome to do so. But they shouldn’t get special advantage, financial or otherwise, for doing so.

        I think it’s worth noting, as well, that Catholic theology is certainly against the sexual abuse of children, and yet many of those were merely shuffled, while two men or two women in a loving, monogamous relationship are publicly demonized. The second I see ideological and theological consistency come from the governing body of an organized religion or church, I’ll gladly eat my words. But Selective Christianity is an infuriating combination of wagon-circling and cognitive dissonance, and I don’t feel like it should be afforded tax subsidies.

        I’m gonna go get some oats to feed my high horse now.

  • Dan Hauge

    It’s definitely an interesting route to get to this as a test case–the original discrimination is not about her beliefs, but about a sleep disorder. Then when she threatens to sue it becomes a theological issue precisely because she is taking it to court. (If the Court rules in the school’s favor, that would make for a fascinating precedent: if the very act of filing a suit for whatever kind of discrimination is in itself prohibited theologically, then it can be blocked and the church or school is protected . . . . ?)