Archive for September, 2011

Upcoming Supreme Court case has grave implications for religious liberty

I have not written in a while. When my writing gets this sparse, I usually try to make my updates only about those things that I consider important.

I’ve been wanting to get practice commenting on current events, especially after a summer discussing issues in sanctity of life, family and marriage, and religious freedom. Many of the Fellows this summer were well-versed in speaking about these issues. I have always been weak in keeping track of important issues in politics and law, and I want to practice being up to date on these things. It is a lot of work. Some days I will read a lot of news articles, but my mind has not processed them enough to be able to speak intelligently about them. I am like this with my law classes, too. I will read so much, thinking that I know something, but then when I am forced to speak about them in class, I fumble over my words and my brain locks up. It is pretty pitiful.

So I think taking some time to write about what I read will help me process it. I hope I will be able to speak intelligently these issues and be able to convince others of their importance.

Up at the US Supreme Court next week is a case that was mentioned often this summer as having deep implications for religious liberty in America. It is the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.

Here are the facts. Cheryl Perich, a teacher at a private Christian school, was diagnosed with narcolepsy after going on a disability leave of absence. The doctor said she would be able to return to work and be fine as long as she took medicine. But the school said that they were concerned her condition may jeopardize the safety of the students in her care. The school asked her to resign, which she refused. She was then fired, not because of the disability, but because she had threatened to sue. The Christian school felt that her threats of legal actions went against the biblical principle of Christians resolving things without going to court.

This was the reason she was fired, or at least that’s what the school says. I guess it is possible for the EEOC to argue that she was indeed fired for her disability, not because she opposed a Christian belief.

At issue for this particular case is whether Perich was a secular or religious employee at Hosanna-Tabor. She taught non-religious subjects at the school but she did lead morning prayers and devotionals. She also attended chapel and taught a religion class. But the far more important issue for the future is the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination law. Under this exception, a religious institution is exempt from employment discrimination lawsuits because of the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment. A church or religious organization has the right to “discriminate” in choosing leaders based on their religious beliefs.

Lower courts have ruled against Perich by holding that she couldn’t bring the case because of the ministerial exception. The Supreme Court has decided it will hear the case and review the ministerial exception. If the Court decides the ministerial exception should not exist, then you can expect there to be a lot of lawsuits in the future in which religious institutions are sued for all kinds of discrimination.

A ruling against Hosanna-Tabor would be an erosion of religious liberty. Separation of church and state gets a bad rap because people use it in talking about the encroachment of the church into the state. This case is the complete opposite–the encroachment of the state into the church. And I think most Christians would intuitively agree with the separation of church and state in this case. The state should not be able to say what the church can and cannot do in terms of who it allows to become leaders and members. What would make a ruling against Hosanna-Tabor ominous is that, with the increasing acceptance and normalization of homosexuality in American society, we would begin to see a growing assault on the church’s right to preach against and condemn homosexuality.

That is why this case is so important.

Huffington Post – Supreme Court To Examine ‘Ministerial Exception’ Case

National Review – What’s at Stake for Religious Liberty in the Hosanna-Tabor Case