Thinking Out Loud

January 12, 2012

Supreme Court Sides with Churches on Hiring and Firing


U.S. citizens who don’t get picked for a job with a religious organization, or get dumped by such an institution can no longer run to the courts crying foul.  That’s the outcome of a landmark decision by the Supremes, and I don’t mean the band led by Diana Ross.

In fact, the decision was unanimous.  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision, as ABC News reports:

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment –”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”–bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.

Roberts gave a history lesson in his opinion, noting that “controversy between church and state over religious offices is hardly new.” He noted that the founders sought to foreclose the possibility of a national church.

“The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers,” Roberts said, and the “Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own. ”

But not everyone was thrilled:

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he thought in today’s ruling the Court had gone too far.

“If you are declared a minister by a religious organization, you are out of luck if you have a claim for discrimination even if it’s based on race, gender or any other non religious factor,” Lynn said. “This effectively blocks almost any kind of serious challenge to an adverse employment decision. ”

The Washington Post also quoted Lynn:

“It’s just a gigantic new exception, a new loophole to the civil rights law for religious groups that will not be shut in a very long time — if ever.”

At NBC News, reporter Pete Williams noted that the judge emphasized the necessity of maintaining the autonomy of mosques, synagogues and churches — and religious schools, which was the particular test case — to

” preach their beliefs, teach their beliefs, and carry out their mission.”

Canadians will be forgiven if the following story reminds you somewhat of something that took place there a few years back, the Christian Horizons case

…Or the American World Vision case going back to 2007 that was resolved nearly a year ago.  In all cases, courts have allowed the religious bodies to set their own employment standards.

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