January 11, 2012

"The Supreme Court ruled for the first time Wednesday that federal discrimination laws do not protect employees of religious organizations who perform 'ministerial' duties."

"The court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion dictates the organizations 'be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.'"
The case involved a Michigan schoolteacher who said Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church violated the Americans with Disability Act in 2005 when it fired her after she tried to return to work after being diagnosed with narcolepsy.

52 comments:

Revenant said...

Pretty obvious ruling.

Pete said...

I read elsewhere that it was a unanimous decision. Seems like we don't get many of them any more. Seems like it would be worth mentioning in the article.

chickenlittle said...

[C]ontrol over the selection of those will will personify its beliefs sounds like a key phrase.

Bet we'll hear that one again.

MadisonMan said...

Lots writing concurring opinions with this one.

Wally Kalbacken said...

I have stubbornly persistent narcolepsy while listening to BHO.

caplight said...

Thank you, Jesus!

Dark Eden said...

This seems really obvious but then to some people separation of church and state is a one way street.

Lem said...

Rumor has it that a catholic church here in East Rutherford NJ 'fired' its gay music director..

Jim Goodness, Archdiocese of Newark spokesman, also declined to comment on the resignation. But he did say, “Catholic churches are allowed to employ people based on [the church’s] belief.”

Sounds like the Supremes just said no to that.

WV nogin

Chip Ahoy said...

This is a very important development and I have several points to the contrary that I feel must be discussed. Allow me to elaborzzzzzz

James said...

Sounds like the Supremes just said no to that.

Are you sure?

johnnymcguirk said...

Read it again, Lem.

edutcher said...

The Brights are a little dimmer today, but think of the apocalyptic frenzy this will throw into the Lefties as they spread the word of the Coming Right Wing Theocracy if GodZero isn't re-elected to make sure the right kind of people replace Ginsburg.

WV "marla" Her nibs, Miss Gibbs.

chickenlittle said...

MadisonMan said...
Lots writing concurring opinions with this one.

I thought he was too stoned?

MadisonMan said...

Rumor has it that a catholic church here in East Rutherford NJ 'fired' its gay music director

If the Priest only wants people in his church who are good examples, he'll have a mighty small flock.

(I note that the cited article is kinda old -- but today's ruling seems to me to be deadly for any lawsuit the guy might ponder)

gadfly said...

Hiring and firing decisions are made every day based on religiosity among church-run employers. Truth be known, religion enters into such decisions in instances where some private companies are controlled by highly religious executives.

One of the wildest employment requirements that would seem to deserve a legal test that has now become common is the smoking rule where employees are not permitted to smoke at all and are subject to testing. I can understand that smoking might prohibit health care insurance participation - but I cannot see the condition of employment bit.

Simon said...

I join the Thomas concurrence. The criterion should be good faith: If Perich could show that the lutherans only considered her a minister for purposes of litigation strategy, she'd have a claim, but without such a showing, we can't (and shouldn't) second-guess the church's designation of her as a minister.

Simon said...

Lem said...
"Rumor has it that a catholic church here in East Rutherford NJ 'fired' its gay music director."

If the guy is out and maintains that there's no conflict between his sexual behavior (remember, it's behavior not orientation that's a problem) and his position in the Church, it's hard to see how the Church could retain him without causing scandal. But the story aptly illustrates the idiocy of trying to apply intolerant secular business rules outside of the context of business. Imagine if someone sued the Democratic party for creating a hostile work environment for Republicans!

Phil 3:14 said...

I guess I understand the legal principles in this case, but I don't like the ruling....

and I'm an evangelical.

vnjagvet said...

Ginsberg and Breyer joined the majority opinion. Alito and Kagan joined in a broader concurring opinion in which they opined that the "ministerial exemption" extends to all denominations whether or not they give religious employees the title of "minister".

All justices, liberal and conservative, agreed with the result. There was no sign of an ideological rift in this case.

SCOTUS thoroughly trashed the Department of Justice's position in the case. That seldom happens.

Carol_Herman said...

Good for Roberts! Sandra Day O'Connor used to walk circles around Rehnquist. Here, the Chief Justice got ALL of his justices to agree!

It's not against gays. This ruling has nothing to do with gays who teach, even in religious schools!

It has to do with a Lutheran Church, who had two classes of teacher-types. One called "lay." Which anybody could fill. And, those that were called "CALLED." Where they took specific courses. Passed them. And, were then qualified BY THE CHURCH, to teach their doctrine.

This woman had a job in the "called" variety. And, she took a leave of absence. In her absence (which lasted more than a month), they hired a permanent replacement.

At this point the woman's issue with narcolepsy "got cured." And, she wanted her job back.

She didn't just sue. She threatened to sue. BACK IN 2005. (When Obama was not yet president.)

I think the first judge tossed her claim. And, on Appeal, the 6th circuit said that she needed to be reinstated. Because the government used the "Disabilities Act" ... as trumping religious decisions.

This is a First Amendment case with a unanimous outcome.

To Lem @ 7:48PM, being gay is not a disability. Whole other ballgame. Let alone if the school the music director was fired from takes taxpayer money. Batons and penises do not equate. Narcolepsy and gayness do not equate, either.

What made this case special was "CALLED."

traditionalguy said...

The Government keeps its hands off religion. That is all the 1st says.

Now when will the SCOTUS reverse its inane logic that the 1st says religion keeps its hands off the Government. That is not even possible anyway since 50% of what the Government does follows the doctrines of secular religious views carefully disguised as New Sciences.

Their 1962 school prayer decision and its progeny just tied the hands of one traditional religion while it gave away the store to the other disguised ones approved by The Educators.

craig said...

What made this case special was "CALLED."

More specifically, what made this case special was the fact that her church's doctrine required 'called' ministers to work out internal church disputes via canonical processes. By suing in secular courts, she essentially repudiated that doctrine, and that made the firing offense a freedom-of-religion issue.

DKWalser said...

Over the last few years, a number of universities have required religious student associations to permit non-believers to participate in the association's leadership. The universities claimed that their non-discrimination policies did not permit the associations to restrict leadership to members of a particular religious order. I wonder how, if at all, the Supreme Court's decision would apply to such situations.

Lem said...

I was running around getting ready to go to work.. and you guys are right. I did not read that correctly.

The Supremes do agree with the church..

Thanks

TWM said...

Value plus for handing Barry a big loss and exposing his attack on our constitutional rights during an election year.

kristinintexas said...

But what does her narcolepsy have to do with religion? I agree that govt shouldn't tell churches who to employ, but it seems like that should apply to more relevant factors - the employee's beliefs, practices, etc, not medical conditions they may have. HOWEVER, completely separate from the religion issue, it seems it would be really dangerous for a schoolteacher to have narcolepsy. I don't know a lot about it, but what if she falls asleep standing in front of her classroom? How old are these kids she's teaching? What if she falls, smacks her head on something, and leaves them unsupervised while she herself is in need of medical attention? That seems to me to be a much more relevant issue, and applicable to many many employers, not just churches or church schools. It seems like the school's decision would be allowable under the "undue hardship" provision of the ADA. But I'm not an expert.

Pogo said...

"It seems like the school's decision would be allowable under the "undue hardship" provision of the ADA. But I'm not an expert."

If lawyers have their way, the ADA will require hiring blind bus drivers.

Roger Zimmerman said...

In my view, having a special exemption from "discrimination laws" for "religious" entities is a violation of 1A. I feel the same way about exemptions for, e.g. congresspersons - this is a violation of equal protection. Of course, the correct answer is for there to be no government interference with private hiring decisions. So, perhaps this decision will open up a crack which a brave employer could use to sue and thereby protect all of our (actual) rights.

Jose_K said...

If lawyers have their way, the ADA will require hiring blind bus drivers so what? There are airplanes blind pilots with license to flight

James said...

How does this decisiion affect the Christa Dias case?

Baby worth legal fight with church

But it was for her employers, Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in East Price Hill, who fired Dias in October 2010 because the single woman was 5½ months pregnant and wanted to discuss maternity leave. She is still unemployed.

She sued in April, accusing the schools of pregnancy discrimination and breach of contract.

Her case, filed in the Cincinnati-based U.S. District Court, is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decides issues in another, similar case.

Dias was fired for being pregnant not from premarital sex, but as a result of artificial insemination.

For Dias, the case is about what she believes is a rigid religious institution that refuses to adapt to modern life punishing her for celebrating life with birth.

For the schools that hired and fired Dias, the issue is less about her beliefs and more about Dias keeping her legal promise.

Freder Frederson said...

Imagine if someone sued the Democratic party for creating a hostile work environment for Republicans!

And what protected group do Republicans or Democrats fall into? Discrimination laws rely on protected class status (you can fire someone because you simply don't like them but not because of their race, religion, disability status, etc.). In some states, but not under federal law, discrimination laws have been expanded to include sexual orientation (I assume NJ is one of them). In many states, and under federal law, you are perfectly free to say as an employer, "I don't hire gays and will fire anyone who I find out is gay."

If we changed the employment laws so employment was no longer at will in this country, then discrimination lawsuits would be a lot less problematic.

Freder Frederson said...

If lawyers have their way, the ADA will require hiring blind bus drivers.

You know absolutely nothing about the ADA, do you? This of course could never happen. In fact UPS has a policy that it will not hire drivers who are blind in one. That ban was upheld in Federal Court. (And the EEOC has approved vision standards for commercial licenses.)

traditionalguy said...

The dynamic is whether a Religion has to let in everybody and vest them all with the rights of citizens.

The Government has to be inclusive until a voter qualification rule or an Illegal Alien category is used to create a border/boundary for itself.

In in the wisdom of our founders, the Church has its own governed territory and can operate by its own exclusionary rules or by its own inclusionary rules.

That is the Church's decision ONLY and King Obama and his ten million Federal sycophants have no say in that.

Needless to say The King is pissed. He wants ALL power.

Simon said...

Freder, when you're done with this masterclass on discrimination law, perhaps you can move on to a more complex and less shopworn topic, such as the sum of two and two. It was just an off the cuff example. Feel free to substitute your own—I think the point was clear. It's preposterous to claim that an organization creates a hostile working environment by carrying out the mission for which it exists, a mission well-known to any person who applies to work there. It's reminiscent of the complaint filed—by an activist lawyer, not by actual muslim students, it turned out—that muslim students at CUA are oppressed by the presence of Catholic symbols around them.

"If we changed the employment laws so employment was no longer at will in this country, then discrimination lawsuits would be a lot less problematic."

Right! Because making it difficult to fire people has been great for the economy of, say, Michigan. When one looks at the unionized sectors, which have essentially bailed out of at will, one sees a picture of vibrancy!

Bill said...

Yes! I knew I took the right position when I wrote a pro-defendant brief for our LRW class.

How relevant.

Henry said...

If we changed the employment laws so employment was no longer at will in this country, then discrimination lawsuits would be a lot less problematic.

Unfortunately this country isn't zoned for hunting and gathering any more.

Freder Frederson said...

Because making it difficult to fire people has been great for the economy of, say, Michigan.

It has certainly helped the economy of, say, Germany. Employment at will is an anachronism that is based on an inherently unequal relationship.

It's reminiscent of the complaint filed—by an activist lawyer, not by actual muslim students, it turned out—that muslim students at CUA are oppressed by the presence of Catholic symbols around them.

It is not reminiscent at all, you failed to provide an example of a protected class is in your original example.

And, btw, what was the end result of this complaint? I'm curious.

carrie said...

Catholics don't fire people because they are gay. Catholics fire gay people, and other unmarried people, only if they are not celibate or at least are not trying their hardest to lead a celibate life. Catholics believe that sex is procreative and that only married people should engage in sex. If a gay person is openly living a sexually active gay life style and he/she is a church leader, he/she will be fired because he/she is not even attempting to live a Catholic life.

Freder Frederson said...

Catholics fire gay people, and other unmarried people, only if they are not celibate or at least are not trying their hardest to lead a celibate life.

The question left unaddressed by this case (and actually still left unresolved) is whether a person, who is not clergy, employed by a Catholic Organization (e.g., a school or hospital) is entitled to the same protection as an employee of a secular employer.

Henry said...

The question left unaddressed by this case (and actually still left unresolved) is whether a person, who is not clergy, employed by a Catholic Organization (e.g., a school or hospital) is entitled to the same protection as an employee of a secular employer.

Exactly. The gay catholic example introduced in this thread is not a parallel case.

James said...

So these employees sign contracts without reading or understanding what they mean?

Freder Frederson said...

So these employees sign contracts without reading or understanding what they mean?

Regardless of what an employment contract says (and employment contract is a misnomer, very few nonunion people have a contract with their employer), employers cannot fire you for reasons related to a protected class (e.g., you can't put in a contract that "if we find out you have a drop of non-white blood, you will be terminated).

Simon said...

carrie said...
"If a gay person is openly living a sexually active gay life style and he/she is a church leader, he/she will be fired because he/she is not even attempting to live a Catholic life."

Right, and while that is scandal in itself, the failure of the parish to act would also be scandalous. The same would be true, with not much less force, of a straight person living in public concubinage.

Freder said...
"Employment at will is an anachronism that is based on an inherently unequal relationship."

It's paradigmatically equal! My employer and I have absolutely symmetrical control over our relationship: Either of us can terminate it at any time for any reason we see fit.

"And, btw, what was the end result of [Banzhaf's CUA] complaint? I'm curious."

Pending, so far as I know.

"The question left unaddressed by this case (and actually still left unresolved) is whether a person, who is not clergy, employed by a Catholic Organization (e.g., a school or hospital) is entitled to the same protection as an employee of a secular employer."

That's imprecise. This case makes it pellucidly clear that a minister doesn't have those "protections." What is left unclear is who, besides clergy, is a minister. And insofar as Perich is the court's first "occasion to consider whether th[e] freedom of a religious organization to select its ministers is implicated by a suit alleging discrimination in employment," it seems entirely reasonable for the court to conclude only that Perich was a minister while avoiding categoric pronouncements and "formula[e] for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister" more generally. That's certainly the path of judicial modesty and minimalism that both Roberts and Alito have favored. The Thomas concurrence gives the most sensible answer—that an ecclesial grouping's own determination should be followed unless there's a sign that the designation was made in bad faith (i.e. precisely to evade lawsuits)—and I suspect that's the path they will follow in subsequent cases.

ed said...

Is anybody else reminded of the Bishop conducting the wedding ceremony in The Princess Bride?

Wuve. Tue wuve. zzzzzzzzzz

Richard Dolan said...

The holding that religious institutions can hire or fire personnel performing religious functions based on their own tenets, free from second-guessing by civil authorities, is not new or surprising. The tension comes from a 20-year old Scalia opinion in Smith, holding that peyote use during religious ceremonies is not exempt from general laws governing drugs. CJ Roberts distinguished Smith on the grounds that this case concerned internal church matters (hiring/firing a 'minister') while Smith concerned outward physical acts subject to religiously neutral, general regulation by the State.

That's a distinction that leaves a lot of grey areas, and works only to draw a sharp line around internal church organization and staffing. Smith's reasoning is certainly in tension with basic Free Exercise ideas. Scalia's concern was that, without such a limitation, each religion would be a law-making institution unto itself: what to do with someone whose religious beliefs directed them to steal from the rich to give to the poor, for example.

Smith didn't create many waves for most non-lawyers because it had little practical impact -- not too many peyote-consuming religions out there. But its principles would become much more controversial if it were applied, for example, in a criminal prosecution of a Catholic priest who offered wine at Mass to underaged kids. Many Catholic churches offer both bread and wine at communion; anyone may take either after First Communion (usually at age 7 or 8). Most states prohibit offering alcoholic beverages to minors.

It's hard to see how the Catholic practice could be upheld on Free Exercise grounds in light of Smith. But it would probably be a tough case for a court have six Catholics among its nine justices.

Simon said...

Richard Dolan said...
"Smith didn't create many waves for most non-lawyers because it had little practical impact -- not too many peyote-consuming religions out there."

I don't know about that. It prompted a rapid and almost unanimous congressional response in the form of RFRA.

Robin said...

The DOJ could not find a single justice to agree with them.

That's pretty telling.

netmarcos said...

It appears that the supporting oppinions grant a lot of lattitude to the particular religios institution in regard to what constitutes and ecclesiastical or ministerial role. I believe that the hypothetical choir director will have little recourse.

Take for example the case of J. Spencer Kinard. He resigned as the spokesman for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir after an affair was revealed, but I believe that this ruling would apply if he had been dismissed. In his own words
Kinard said there was "no question" in his mind about resigning as Tabernacle Choir announcer because "I could no longer represent LDS Church standards."

WV: anted - to be carried away by a creature one tenth your mass.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I believe that the Supremes indicated that their decision applied narrowly to THIS case only and wasn't a wide sweeping decision (if that is the correct term, since I'm not a lawyer) that would affect all other instances.

??

David R. Graham said...

"If lawyers have their way, the ADA will require hiring blind bus drivers."

They already have used ADA to make public transit agencies hire individuals so fat they must ride to and from their bus in motorized chairs and then break the thousand dollar driver seats and bases and then urinate in those seats because it's so difficult to get up and walk to a restroom.

GT said...

The opinion is very strong as far as it goes -- but it extends only to "ministerial" positions. The facts showed that the fired teacher had a pretty good claim for unlawful retaliation (she was fired for asserting her ADA rights and for threatening to assert those rights in a lawsuit if need be). The Supremes ruled that because her position was "ministerial" (she was appointed as a minister and her duties included leading devotional exercises) the church/employer had the absolute First Amendment right to decide whether or not to continue her employment, even if the decision would have been unlawful if it had been made by a non-church employer or with respect to an employee hwo was not a "minister."

So the issue with others employed by churches (such as the gay music director) is whether or not their positions are "ministerial."

SDN said...

"very few nonunion people have a contract with their employer"

With this sentence, Freder reveals he's not a lawyer, and not employed.

Every employee has a contract with their employer:

offer: Come work for us, as long as you abide by these terms in the employee handbook and give us an honest day's work.

Exchange of value: employee gives 40+ hours of their life and in return employer gives money, whether in salary or benefits.

acceptance: employee: that sounds fair; I'll take the job.

Voila: the basic elements of a contract.

Freder's a moron, industrial strength.

wv: shnooks: Shnooks like Freder were shnookered into believing they got an education.