WHAT OTHERS SAY: Court rightly OKs church protections

Monday, January 16, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CST

Politicians who complain that federal judges are waging war on religious liberty should read the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The court said the First Amendment to the Constitution protects churches from employment discrimination lawsuits by employees who are designated "ministers." It is a ringing endorsement of the idea that the First Amendment limits the government from interfering with internal decisions of religious groups.

The ruling is narrowly limited to the facts of the Lutheran church case, but it is easy to see the court expanding the principle to protect other religious matters from federal intervention. That includes the fact that all churches are free to decide for themselves whether to perform same-sex marriages, as the Iowa Supreme Court emphasized in its ruling in Varnum v. Brien.

In this case, the Redford, Mich., Lutheran church was sued by a woman who had taught in the church’s school. Cheryl Perich claimed she was illegally fired for health problems in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The church said it fired the teacher because she violated church policy when she threatened to sue, which violated the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s belief that "Christians should resolve their disputes internally."

The court said such hiring and firing decisions are for the church to make, not the government. Because Perich was not an ordinary teacher, she was a "minister of religion," which involved religious classroom instruction and leading religious services. She had to undergo six years of training to achieve that designation. The court said the church is free to choose or reject its ministers.

"Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a unanimous court. "Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs."

While Roberts' majority opinion refers to a "ministerial exception" throughout, Justice Samuel Alito noted in a concurring opinion signed by Justice Elena Kagan that the word "minister" does not necessarily apply to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. Thus, Alito said the ministerial exception "should apply to any employee who leads a religious organization, conducts worship service or important religious ceremonies or rituals or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith."

Although the ruling is narrowly confined to the facts of the Michigan case, it has broader implications for religions being free of government interference. Indeed, the chief justice’s majority opinion delves deep into English history to trace the roots of the First Amendment, which protects groups of religious believers from government dictates.

This has meaning for those who want government endorsement of Christianity and prayer led by public schoolteachers. They forget that the First Amendment has two clauses pertaining to religion. As Wednesday’s decision made clear, the second clause says government cannot interfere with the free exercise of religion. The first clause says the government cannot establish an official government religion.

The First Amendment was written by men who had firsthand knowledge of what happens when the king rules the church and banishes other religious sects. "Familiar with life under the established Church of England," Roberts wrote, "the founding generation sought to foreclose the possibility of a national church."

The courts are defending the Constitution when they read both clauses, not just one.

Copyright Des Moines Register. Reprinted with permission.

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David Sims January 16, 2012 | 2:41 p.m.

The US Supreme Court's ruling in "Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" is a wise one. The high court justices unanimously decided that religious institutions aren't liable to civil penalties for choosing (or retaining) their employees in accordance with standards that would constitute a civil rights violation were a non-religious institution to do likewise. And that makes sense, for two reasons.
First, it wouldn't do to give non-believers (or members of an opposed faction) a legal right to infiltrate a religious group, since that would enable them to sew division and corruption, undermine the group's beliefs, and work against the group's causes.
Second, the First Amendment (where the Establishment Clause is found) is part of the Bill of Rights, which is integral to the Constitution of the United States, as Amended. As such, it is the Supreme Law of the Land, above which the United States may recognize no other laws. As such, the First Amendment is superior to Acts of Congress, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The high court has reaffirmed an obvious truth about the correct priority of law in the United States.
That surprises me, actually. You'd think that if the Supreme Court would recognize the supremacy of the First Amendment over any of the various congressional "Sympathy Acts," then it would logically have to recognize, also, the supremacy of the entire Bill of Rights over the Patriot Acts. We'll probably see, before too long, whether or not the Supreme Court will be consistent, or instead hypocritically selective, regarding the Constitution's supremacy over Acts of Congress.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 16, 2012 | 5:14 p.m.

Recently someone pointed out that the present Supreme Court is composed of six justices who are Catholic and three justices who are Jewish - with no Protestant justices.

Anything wrong with that? No, but it's definitely a departure from the historic composition of the court as far as religious preferences are concerned.

Also, one-third of the justices are now female.

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt January 16, 2012 | 6:29 p.m.

You mean to tell me that we completely caved in to the demands of Iron-Age superstitions again? No way.

We're world leaders in technology and can lay claim to countless scientific breakthroughs over the last century. This article makes it sound as if ~40% of Americans still think that evolution is a myth, believing instead that we were created in our present form ~10,00 years ago (1). Obviously such an insinuation is preposterous, as it would be to suggest that ~40% of Americans believe Jesus will return to earth sometime by 2050 (2).


(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle January 16, 2012 | 6:57 p.m.

Whacky stuff. What amazes me: according to the Gallup poll, a full 22% of folks who have a *postgraduate* degree take the creationist line. There must be more criminal justice M.S.'s than I thought...

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson January 16, 2012 | 10:05 p.m.

Ellis Smith says, "Recently someone pointed out that the present Supreme Court is composed of six justices who are Catholic and three justices who are Jewish - with no Protestant justices."

Well, so much for the theory that our government is controlled by right-wing fundie Protestant evangelical types, leftover from that Neanderthal Bush.

My own philosophy on creationism has evolved.

I tend to scoff at both the Christophobes of the left, and the scientistophobes of the right. Certain members of both camps cause me to doubt the validity of either intelligent design or evolution.

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt January 17, 2012 | 1:34 a.m.

Doubting the validity of evolution is like doubting the validity of Earth's non-flatness, or doubting the validity of gravity. (In fact, we know more about evolution than we do about gravity.)

The book from which creationists draw their "evidence" against evolution is the same book responsible for these pearls of scientific ignorance:

-Rabbits are ruminants. (Lev. 11:6)
-Bats are birds. (Lev. 11:13-19)
-Four-legged insects exist. (Lev. 11:20)
-Curing leprosy involves cedar and bird blood. (Lev. 14)
-Dumbness is caused by demons. (Luke 11:14)

Et cetera.

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 17, 2012 | 2:30 p.m.
"11. Does evolution prove there is no God?
No. Many people, from evolutionary biologists to important religious figures like Pope John Paul II, contend that the time-tested theory of evolution does not refute the presence of God. They acknowledge that evolution is the description of a process that governs the development of life on Earth. Like other scientific theories, including Copernican theory, atomic theory, and the germ theory of disease, evolution deals only with objects, events, and processes in the material world. Science has nothing to say one way or the other about the existence of God or about people's spiritual beliefs."

I read, study of evolution in U.S. began in earnest after WW2, about the time of the move toward socialism. Coincidence, I'm sure. More serious use came in 1960's after determination that social behavior of humans might be adjusted with evolution information. Which of us is most interested in adjustment of social behavior and elimination of Christianity in our classrooms? Would that not be "liberals"?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 17, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.

R_{\mu \nu} - {1 \over 2}g_{\mu \nu}\,R + g_{\mu \nu} \Lambda = {8 \pi G \over c^4} T_{\mu \nu}

I'm partial to the 8*pi*G part.

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt January 17, 2012 | 4:38 p.m.

The existence of God cannot be refuted because his existence from the start was established without evidence. You can't prove that there isn't an invisible, incorporeal dragon in my garage either, but this doesn't give me any reason to think that there is one.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" -- Carl Sagan

"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof." -- Christopher Hitchens

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 17, 2012 | 5:24 p.m.

Virtually every human civilization in history has created a God, or Gods. This consistently observed historical evidence leaves little doubt, in my mind, that God exists.

Exactly what God is, now... that's another question.

Because humans have consistently created God(s) to explain the unexplainable, I tend to view man's conceptualization of God as the embodiment of ignorance. Of course this creates the irony that the more ignorant one is, the closer to God they can feel, but only those who know enough to understand what they don't know can truly be close to God.

Your relationship with God, well... figuring that out is what life is all about.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum January 17, 2012 | 5:43 p.m.

"Virtually every human civilization in history has created a God, or Gods. This consistently observed historical evidence leaves little doubt, in my mind, that God exists."

Infallible logic...

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 17, 2012 | 9:27 p.m.

"The existence of God cannot be refuted because his existence from the start was established without evidence."

Some "believe", some don't. So what's the problem in a free society? Two quotes, both from dead atheists, born about time of WW2,one liberal, other an avowed socialist. Wish we could ask them.

"Your relationship with God, well... figuring that out is what life is all about."

My relationship with God has little to do with explanations. It is mine and as I am sure is the case with most Christians, it is a source for HOPE. This, as I have determined, is the reason the left, liberals, progressives, socialists, "those who know enough to understand what they don't know can truly be close to God", all that detest Christianity are in fact intent upon removal of that means of solace which removes us from worship of anything other than Government.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum January 17, 2012 | 9:56 p.m.

“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man”...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 18, 2012 | 5:30 a.m.

"Virtually every human society in history has created a god or gods..."

Some have created LIVING gods. Examples include Hitler, Lenin*, and the Kim family in North Korea (father, son and grandson).

Watching recent events, a funeral and an announced succession, on television it's hard to tell whether we are looking at a state, a religion, or both.

*- Lenin, an assumed name, means "nobody" in Russian.

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt January 18, 2012 | 12:43 p.m.

frank: Nice whitewashing of the situation. It would be one thing if people just "believed," as you say, but the problem is that people ACT on these beliefs. Society's contempt for homosexuals, our views on abortion, the enormous death toll caused by religious conflicts, so on and so forth, are all the result of people acting on their beliefs. Beliefs aren't harmless.

"My God is the real God!"
"No, MY God is the real God!"
*war ensues*
*people die*
*survivors don't know who was right*

p.s. Pretending that death isn't really death and that we all live forever isn't the mindset we should be in if we actually care about fixing our problems and helping others. Religion offers about as much hope as burying your head in the sand does, aka it doesn't.

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 18, 2012 | 2:08 p.m.

JH - "Beliefs aren't harmless." Your posts are becoming outrageous. Your beliefs are certainly not harmless. The views you espouse around here lean to socialism more than any other (I add other, because you will deny any socialistic nature in your posts. You only show how much more the rich could do). Socialism is proven to have created more death of human beings, thru starvation and murder than any other system ever on our earth. Just one. As I have stated, socialists and fascism hate religion. The hope of those oppressed is what enabled them to eventually prevail.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor January 18, 2012 | 2:19 p.m.

Louis Schneebaum January 17, 2012 | 9:56 p.m.
“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man”...

No arguments here. I just wish you guys would have figured that out before our last election !!!!

(Report Comment)

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