SCOTUS is issuing rulings left, right and center. And today it issued an important one that was also a defeat for the Obama Administration:
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 interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.
HuffPo has the details.
The unwanted minister in this case was Cheryl Perich, a “called” — or ordained — teacher at Hosanna-Tabor, a Michigan church and grade school that is part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In 2004, she went on disability leave for what was soon diagnosed as narcolepsy. Per its policy, the school asked her to resign once her absence exceeded six months, but she refused. Rather than submit to the school’s request that her complaint be handled according to the church’s tenet of internal dispute resolution, Perich threatened to file a complaint with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In response, the Hosanna-Tabor congregation rescinded Perich’s call, which drove her to follow through on her EEOC threat.
The implications of this decision are broad, establishing a “ministerial exemption” to discrimination laws which enshrines the ability of religions to limit their clergy to those they consider acceptable. There’s another layer to this, however. One of the concerns that opponents of gay marriage have is that churches could be forced to accept such unions. This decision puts an undisputed kibosh on that. If religious organizations can employ whom they chose, they will be free to marry whom they choose. This decision was unanimous, indicating the Court overwhelming favors the ministerial exemption and is likely to for decades.
The Obama Administration argued against the ministerial exemption, an idea that has previously been supported. They bet on the wrong side on this one. Big time. Their own judges rebuked their attempt to split hairs on who was a minister.
Update: Via Allahpundit, I’m reminded of Walter Olson’s great commentary on this matter some months ago. Read it.