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Yes, Minister

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 In response, the Hosanna-Tabor congregation rescinded Perich’s call, which drove her to follow through on her EEOC threat.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.

6 comments

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  1. Seattle Outcast says:

    Personally, I don’t see why we continue to give religious people the legal ability to perform marriages. They can hold all the weddings they want, but in all reality the legal part of it should be little more than filling out the paperwork and paying the filing fee. Something that can be handled in less than an hour at any courthouse.

    On the other hand, if someone wants to have the legal ability to perform marriages, then they should be required to perform that service for absolutely anybody that meets the legal requirements to get married. Such a responsibility is that of the public trust given to a civil servant, and by performing marriages you are in a civil servant. By the above court decision, that pretty much eliminates most priests, ministers, etc from consideration.

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  2. Hal_10000 says:

    Yeah, that whole “power invested in me by the State of X” always sounded weird to me.

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  3. richtaylor365 says:

    This decision makes perfect sense to me and the fact that it was unanimous and the implications of that should not be lost on anyone.

    That “Separation” door swings both ways and it exists for the benefit of both sides. The very first line of the First Amendment deals with the sanctity and protection of religion, many constitutional scholars have opined that that was by design for relevance sake, and the very soul of The Exercise Clause mandates that religions are allowed to practice the tenets and precepts of that religion without governmental interference. If the Mennonite faith prohibits women from being Pastors or officers of the church, they have that right to exclude women from those positions. A Jewish synagogue has the right to hire only Jews for church positions and should not be forced to say hire a practicing Muslim, whose faith is hostile and at odds with the Jewish faith, because the EEOC tells them to.

    Much like the military, where you know going in that your constitutional rights are subordinated to that of your superiors, getting hired by a church in any capacity is voluntary and you should know going in that they will run their church under the guidelines of the religion and not the government.

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  4. Miguelito says:

    I do agree that religious marriage and civil unions (or want of a better word) should be completely separated and that the latter is the only thing that should have any legal weight.

    Would solve the whole gay marriage issue pretty damn fast.

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  5. blameme says:

    I agree mostly with SO.

    To me, gubment should be out of the “marriage” business and the only legal part should be via civil unions for EVERYONE. Gays, straight, whatever.

    Then, if someone wants a wedding, let them find the church of their choosing that aligns with their believes. Gay couples could find churches that embrace gay couples marrying and straights could marry in churches that do not.

    Government needs to call the “legal” part of marriage a civil union. The religious ceremony should carry no weight legally and only reflect the religious beliefs (or lack thereof as atheists enjoy a good party too) of the two involved.

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  6. hist_ed says:

    This shows just how far out the administration is in its legal thinking. They were pushing this case and they get slapped down 9-0. Ginsberg, and Obama’s two pets, Sotomayor and Kagen both thought the administration was out in la-la land on this yet somehow a department full of attorneys at the EEOC all thought it was a good legal argument. Our Constitutional law prof in chief also let it ride. Add this to the may other crazy actions that have happened in the past couple of years and one can understand that this administration has no respect for the law, its all about getting its agenda pushed.

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