Supreme Court Says Churches Can Discriminate Against Religious Employees For Any Reason
Not so much anymore
Today, the Supreme Court made a unanimous landmark decision reinforcing the separation of Church and State to the detriment of the disabled.
Ruling on a case from Michigan, the SCOTUS ruled that religious employees could not sue their employer for discrimination. Secular employees, for instance, a janitor, are still protected by the law. This means that anyone working for a church in a religious capacity, like a Sunday School treacher, is at the mercy of that church if it chooses to discriminate against them for any reason at all, even non-religious reasons.
This particular case involves Cheryl Perich, a religious instructor and commissioned minister at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Michigan. In 2004, Perich fell ill and, after a leave of absence, was denied the resumption of her position which had been filled. She had been diagnosed with narcolepsy and threatened to sue if not reinstated under the Americans with Disability Act. The church fired her in retaliation.
In the Courts’ decision, Chief Justice Roberts said:
“Allowing anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious organizations could end up forcing churches to take religious leaders they no longer want. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.”
I happen to agree with this 100%. The government should not have the right to force a church to employ a person, in a religious capacity, that goes against the particular faith of that organization. That could lead to a Fred Phelps in a progressive church or a progressive in Fred Phelps’ church. Obviously unthinkable. Except that Perich was simply looking to resume her job after an unexpected illness. Her religious credentials (for lack of a better word) remained unchanged.
Roberts went on:
“We are reluctant to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister. It is enough for us to conclude, in this, our first case involving the ministerial exception, that the exception covers Perich, given all the circumstances of her employment.”
Again, said circumstances being an illness and a desire to have her job back. Under this ruling, the victim of a car accident, a new mother coming back from maternity leave or a cancer survivor can be denied their job if they are employed in a religious capacity.
The conservative tilted court showed a singular lack of courage in refusing to clarify the circumstances under which the so-called “ministerial exception” operates. Said court not having previously shown any hesitation with ruling outside the confines of a case when it advanced the conservative agenda (see Citizens United).
I wonder how the Right will weigh in on this? On the one hand, they insist that there is no separation of Church and State. On the other, if they were no separation, then churches should not be protected from anti-discrimination laws. It should be interesting to see the logic pretzels they twist themselves into.
Read more here.
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