9-0: Supreme Court finds “ministerial exception” to job discrimination laws for religious organizations

posted at 9:13 pm on January 11, 2012 by Allahpundit

When you’ve got two core First Amendment principles to guide you, even a big case can be an easy one.

In what may be its most significant religious liberty decision in two decades, the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the first time recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference…

The administration had told the justices that their analysis of Ms. Perich’s case should be essentially the same whether she had been employed by a church, a labor union, a social club or any other group with free-association rights under the First Amendment. That position received withering criticism when the case was argued in October, and it was soundly rejected in Wednesday’s decision.

“That result is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the religion clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”

I recommend reading Walter Olson’s piece at Cato from October for background on the case, as his post drips with amazement that Obama’s DOJ would try to argue that religious orgs enjoy no extra freedom in their hiring practices under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. His amazement was obviously shared: I can’t remember the last time a major decision on a hot-button issue went 9-0. What the DOJ could have done — and where this line of jurisprudence is clearly headed — is to quibble over who qualifies as a “minister” for the ministerial exception. Employees who provide strictly secular services for a religious org can sue under discrimination laws, but once there’s some sort of religious component involved, jurisdiction starts to melt away under the First Amendment. (In this case, the teacher had taught not just secular subjects but religious classes too.) Alito wrote a concurrence that was joined by Kagan(!) specifically arguing that the ministerial exception should apply broadly, “to any ‘employee’ who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position.” The Court didn’t reach that question but it will in a later case, especially as conflicts between gay rights and religious freedom become more prominent.

I wonder if this ruling will encourage religious orgs to give more ancillary religious duties to their employees, if only for liability purposes. Incentives are, after all, incentives. Exit quotation from Olson: “The fact is that to many in the Obama administration, as to many in modern legal academia, employment discrimination law is itself pursued with the intensity of, well, a religion. And when someone else’s religion comes into conflict with theirs — well, it’s only human nature for them to want theirs to prevail.”


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2

You can bet that the Left won’t stop here… DD

Darvin Dowdy on January 12, 2012 at 7:06 AM

I’m happy about this ruling, but the fly in the ointment will be sharia.

stefanite on January 12, 2012 at 7:10 AM

And yet religious liberty is specifically written into the constitution but sexual liberty is nowhere to be found. I guess sexual liberty is their idea of a religion.

I’ve long argued that the left defines freedom solely as the ability to sleep with whomever (whatever) you want, wherever and whenever, without criticism or consequence. As long as you can do that, you’re “free”…

But things like religious freedom, speech, self-defense…those are not freedoms or rights, but things to be regulated (and strangled) by the government.

The wise latina and KD Lang both agreeing about religious freedom ?
There has to be a deal in place.
Specially since Justice Roberts was defending Kagan from recusal over Obama-scare just a few days ago

Or maybe it’s possible that the Obama administration was so overreaching on this case that even the liberal Supreme Court Justices had to rebuke them on this. It’s definitely more likely than them making a deal on this — an issue that probably went unnoticed to a majority of Americans (sadly) — because Obamacare is far more unpopular and widely known than this ministerial exception case.

Also, seeing as Obama called the conservative Justices stupid during his State of the Union address last year, what on earth makes you think they’d be willing to make any sort of deal with him on this in exchange for Obamacare?

Obamacare will be a 5-4 ruling. All Obama has to do is convince Justice Kennedy to decide in favor of the Administration. There’s no deal in the works here on a case that won’t be decided for a few months.

englishqueen01 on January 12, 2012 at 7:15 AM

Exit quotation from Olson: “The fact is that to many in the Obama administration, as to many in modern legal academia, employment discrimination law is itself pursued with the intensity of, well, a religion. And when someone else’s religion comes into conflict with theirs — well, it’s only human nature for them to want theirs to prevail.”

And that, makes for a fine defense of radical Islam and global theocracy.
:rolleyes

~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on January 12, 2012 at 7:15 AM

I’m happy about this ruling, but the fly in the ointment will be sharia.

Why? Are we so irrational we can’t tell the difference between Christian ministerial doctrine and a theological-political ideology that readily oppresses women, gays, and non-Muslims?

Religious freedom and prohibiting shari’a law can exist in the same country. They aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

englishqueen01 on January 12, 2012 at 7:16 AM

One last thought before I depart for work:

If the SCOTUS rules in favor of Obamacare this spring/summer — before the 2012 election — it will only give momentum to the candidate who vows to roll it back if elected in November.

englishqueen01 on January 12, 2012 at 7:18 AM

as his post drips with amazement that Obama’s DOJ would try to argue that religious orgs enjoy no extra freedom in their hiring practices under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses.

I can’t imagine why. This administration has no respect for the Constitution. They look the other way as gun-weilding Black Panthers intimidate white voters in Philadelphia but go out after faith-based organizations. It’s nothing new from this group of faithless socialists who are destroying this nation. And for all you whiners that vow to stay home if your pet social conservative doesn’t get the GOP nomination, think about this. Do you really want the jug-eared idiot and Eric Holder to have four more years shredding the Constitution?

Happy Nomad on January 12, 2012 at 7:20 AM

as an atheist i am ok with this. what i dont like is that churches dont pay taxes.

nathor on January 12, 2012 at 7:57 AM

Kagan spooked by all the ’316′ coincidences????

pamplonajack on January 11, 2012 at 9:16 PM

What are ’316′ coincidences?

Dirty Creature on January 12, 2012 at 8:02 AM

What are ’316′ coincidences?

Why, Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards to defeat the Steelers. It’s a sign from God, doncha know?

ksbsnowowl on January 12, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Why, Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards to defeat the Steelers. It’s a sign from God, doncha know?

ksbsnowowl on January 12, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Oh. a football reference.

Well, I don’t follow football, but whatever gets people to see is ok with me.

Dirty Creature on January 12, 2012 at 8:16 AM

englishqueen01 on January 12, 2012 at 7:16 AM

I hope you’re right.

stefanite on January 12, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Or maybe it’s possible that the Obama administration was so overreaching on this case that even the liberal Supreme Court Justices had to rebuke them on this.

My bet is the two Obama libs saw were the other Justices were going and didn’t want it to be a 7-2 decision thus making Obama’s only appointments look way out of the legal mainstream.

tommyboy on January 12, 2012 at 8:52 AM

My bet is the two Obama libs saw were the other Justices were going and didn’t want it to be a 7-2 decision thus making Obama’s only appointments look way out of the legal mainstream.

That makes sense to me, but there ought to be some way to test the theory, to wit: Has either KD Lang or the wide Latina written anything in the case? Or did they leave that to the others, and simply sign the decision?

It seems to me that if theirs was a decision of political cowardice, they would have a hard time writing an opinion that supported it very convincingly. So — has anyone read all the attached opinions yet? *I* certainly don’t have the time…

Dirty Creature on January 12, 2012 at 8:59 AM

The Court didn’t reach that question but it will in a later case, especially as homosexuals’ attacks on conflicts between gay rights and religious freedom become more prominent.

Two Southern California women filed a lawsuit Monday against a Hawaii bed and breakfast, saying the business denied them a room because they are gay.

Why must this ruling be limited to religious organizations? And why only to ministers, however broadly construed? A bed and breakfast may be a non-religious secular enterprise, but being forced to operate it under onerous conditions – in conflict with one’s religious conscience – is as problematic as being force e.g. to hire a Muslim to teach in a church-run kindergarten.

Akzed on January 12, 2012 at 9:02 AM

If you have the time by all means read or listen to the oral arguments. It is clear that nobody really knew what to talk about. The arguments against the ministerial exception were just silly. And they came down to “well if a church has a long standing policy of discrimination like the RC’s not ordaining women, that’s OK. But since we don’t know much about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, then we have to assume they made up their theology on conflict resolution so they could fire this woman.”

When I read the transcript of the oral arguments last fall I was sure the case would be decided 6-3 in favor of the church. Glad it was 9-zip but am surprised.

IdrilofGondolin on January 12, 2012 at 9:13 AM

In a normal world this administration would understand this is a stinging rebuke to executive overreach. Again, in a normal world. Perhaps in this world we’ll hear a nice lofty insult again against SCOTUS from President Petty at his next State of the Union address.

NotCoach on January 12, 2012 at 9:31 AM

Akzed on January 12, 2012 at 9:02 AM

An interesting dilemma. Unlike most stores, the act of homosexuality may actually be committed at a B&B. The article indicates that the owner of the B&B may also discriminate against unmarried heterosexual couples.

NotCoach on January 12, 2012 at 9:37 AM

An interesting dilemma. Unlike most stores, the act of homosexuality may actually be committed at a B&B. The article indicates that the owner of the B&B may also discriminate against unmarried heterosexual couples.

NotCoach on January 12, 2012 at 9:37 AM

This case wouldn’t affect those laws. This ruling does allow ministers to be denied employment for being gay, disabled or any other reason.

OptionsTrader on January 12, 2012 at 9:47 AM

If there is a “Consciencious Objector” status in employment discrimination, how far of a reach is it to also say religious hospitals can decide not to perform abortions?

MTF on January 12, 2012 at 9:49 AM

Uh oh. Kagan and Sotomayar should be prepared for a meeting with the One. They aren’t supposed to actually follow the Constitution.

KateNE on January 12, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Who would have thought the Supreme Court would have gotten it perfectly correct? Hat’s off to the Supreme Court on this decision !!

Axion on January 12, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Even the two recently appointed fat girls on the Supreme Court went along with this? Amazing.

kens on January 12, 2012 at 12:59 PM

In a normal world this administration would understand this is a stinging rebuke to executive overreach. Again, in a normal world. Perhaps in this world we’ll hear a nice lofty insult again against SCOTUS from President Petty at his next State of the Union address.

NotCoach on January 12, 2012 at 9:31 AM

I’m looking forward the his State of the Union address after this oncoming one.

“I realize that the Republicans had massive voter fraud during the last election, so I’m now arresting Wilbert Huntsman on massive voter fraud and installing myself as President for Life. Elections will no longer be held. Furthermore, we are opening Adult Education Camps. Selected individuals will be sent to these camps indefinitely for further education.”

PrettyD_Vicious on January 12, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Congress can no longer claim that they are the only ones with EXCEPTIONs to the laws. They will be so jealous !!!

Michael73501 on January 12, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Akzed on January 12, 2012 at 9:02 AM

An interesting dilemma. Unlike most stores, the act of homosexuality may actually be committed at a B&B. The article indicates that the owner of the B&B may also discriminate against unmarried heterosexual couples.

NotCoach on January 12, 2012 at 9:37 AM

Civil Rights Act. Overreach. Radioactive. Electrified rail.

Axe on January 12, 2012 at 5:04 PM

Comment pages: 1 2