Santorum Lies About Obama and Female Priests

Santorum Lies About Obama and Female Priests February 13, 2012

Rick Santorum’s latest bizarre attack on President Obama is a flat-out lie. He’s actually claiming that Obama wants to force the Catholic Church to accept female priests, a complete distortion of his administration’s position in a recent Supreme Court case.

What they’ve done here is a direct assault on the First Amendment, not only a direct assault on the freedom of religion, by forcing people specifically to do things that are against their religious teachings. . . . This is a president who, just recently, in this Hosanna-Tabor case was basically making the argument that Catholics had to, you know, maybe even had to go so far as to hire women priests to comply with employment discrimination issues. This is a very hostile president to people of faith. He’s a hostile president, not just to people of faith, but to all freedoms.

This isn’t just a disagreement, it’s a blatant lie. The Hosanna-Tabor case involved a woman who filed a lawsuit against a Christian school for firing her as a teacher. It was one of dozens of cases where the courts have had to decide the limits of what is called the “ministerial exception.” It is a well-established principle, based on the First Amendment religion clauses, that the government cannot interfere in internal church doctrinal issues. A Christian church can’t be forced to hire an atheist or Muslim minister, for example, which is obvious and accepted by pretty much everyone.

But there are some close calls when it comes to how exactly you set the limits of this exception. What about a church-run school? Can they refuse to hire a woman or a black person based on their religious doctrines? That’s what this case was about, and the decision was 9-0 in favor of the school. Because this teacher taught a religion course at the school, in addition to teaching math and science, she was deemed a ministerial employee for purposes of the First Amendment.

And no, the Obama administration did not argue anything even approaching the idea that churches should be forced to hire female ministers. You can read the solicitor general’s brief here. Not only did the administration not argue that the ministerial exception should not exist, they argued explicitly that the ministerial exception should only be applied to actual ministers. You can disagree with their position, of course, and the court did. But to claim that the administration’s position is that churches should have to hire female priests is simply a lie.

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