SCOTUS: Religious workplace vs. Secular workplace

Aug 2010
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This case will have a significant impact on what religious organizations can get away with in workplace abuses. While I fully support a clear division between church and state, to see Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church hide behind the First Amendment in their abuse of a disabled employee. For one thing, it isn't Christian to lie or abuse. For another, it's immoral to say one thing and do another.

Supreme Court hears religious-workplace firing dispute
A Michigan teacher diagnosed with narcolepsy but eventually cleared to work sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act when a Lutheran school fired her.

The Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church said Cheryl Perich violated a core church principle by bringing her grievance to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rather than using church processes to try to get her job back. Hosanna-Tabor is asking the justices to throw out the case, based on a so-called "ministerial exception," which bars some job-related lawsuits against religious organizations and is intended to protect churches from government interference. A lower U.S. appeals court had ruled for Perich.
 
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Aug 2010
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Editorial on the same case. Using the "ministerial exception" for a teacher in order to cover up an unlawful termination seems dishonest. I'd expect a corporation to pull this crap, but a Church?

Editorial: Teacher tests separation of church and state
what happens when a church, acting in a secular way in a secular matter, tries to deprive someone of rights that would otherwise be protected by the same Constitution? Is it exempt from the law?

The difficulty of those questions left Supreme Court justices deeply divided Wednesday as they grilled lawyers in a case that could help sharpen the line between religious freedom and secular law.

The issue is whether a Lutheran church school in Redford, Mich., had the right to fire a disabled school teacher who taught both religious and secular classes and was a "commissioned minister" of the church.

Look no deeper, and the answer is easy: Yes, it did. For more than 40 years, lower courts have recognized a "ministerial exception" that keeps government from judging who is fit to be a member of any religion's clergy. Religious freedom would be meaningless without it.

On the other hand, courts have also said church employees working in a secular capacity — for instance, janitors — are not covered.

The Michigan teacher, Cheryl Perich, falls somewhere in between, and the circumstances of the case put her closer to a secular employee than her title alone would make it appear.
 

anonymous

Former Staff
Jun 2008
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Good story, I think they should rule in her favor. This doesn't really fit the bill for "ministerial exception".
 
Aug 2010
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Good story, I think they should rule in her favor. This doesn't really fit the bill for "ministerial exception".
I agree, but the reaction from SCOTUS, at least according to the article, is mixed. It could go either way.
 
Jun 2011
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The problem is that her religious position and her secular position are tied at the hip. She is a miister, she is a religious instructor and a math instructor (or whatever she does teach)

I would like to know if there are non-minister teachers at this particular school. In light of the circumstances of this case, i think its highly relevant. If being a lutheran minister is a condition precedent to being a math teacher to begin with, she should lose, if not, then they could bifurcate the position, terminate her from one and reasonably accomodate her for the secular position.
 
Aug 2010
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The problem is that her religious position and her secular position are tied at the hip. She is a miister, she is a religious instructor and a math instructor (or whatever she does teach)

I would like to know if there are non-minister teachers at this particular school.
A key point, but notice how loosely the church is defining "minister". Does she perform marriages? Lead sermons? Or does she simply teach the religious syllabus given her?

It seems to me this church is using the term "minister" to dodge the law, but she is only a minister on paper because it protects the church from liability, not a practicing minister with the same powers as others outside the classroom.
 
Jun 2011
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A key point, but notice how loosely the church is defining "minister". Does she perform marriages? Lead sermons? Or does she simply teach the religious syllabus given her?
I don't know! Tweak the facts, tweak the result, right? I agree that if the church is applying an erroneous, even deceiving, label to her employment for purposes of circumventing a law that it would be an attempt to utilize the 'ministerial exception' as a sword and not a shield.

For instance, if the FACTS show (whatever they are they are, I wasn't there of course) that all Lutheran minister spend x number of years in the seminary, are trained privately by the church for y number of years and none of these factors are true...the reasonable inference is that she really ISN'T a minister.....

To illuminate this further, imagine if the government started calling civilian employees soldiers, absurd, but what factors would you look to; all of the experiences that soldiers share but civilian employees do not (basic training, the crew cut, uniforms, etc)
 
Aug 2010
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We'll see how this plays out over the next few days. Obviously another landmark case in the making.